Boys Don't Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools£14.41
- Supports teachers and schools leaders with many challenges faced in schools with boys.
- Offers practical solutions to challenge behaviours.
- Explores research around many of the challenging behaviours posed by boys.
- Challenges sex, sexism, and the language used by everyone within schools that can perpetuate problems for boys and girls.
- Respect is fundamentally at the heart of this book. Respect for everyone.
I was reading a fascinating article recently, published in the LA Times (link), telling the story how a club has been set up in Beijing that teaches boys (and only boys) to be ‘real men’, developing to being brave, responsible and committed. As the boys strip off their shirts (some as young as seven), they run through parks boxing the air and running in place. Other activities, within this club, include American football, wrestling and boxing, along with annual treks through the desert and mountains. The leader of this particular club likens the group to a ‘reserve for alpha males’, and many clubs have sprung up countering the influence in China of K-pop’s influence, and “effeminate figures”.
The arguments and debates surrounding what it means to be a boy – what it means to be a male – in many contemporary societies does not appear to be abating, and with many issues still alive in terms of race, cultures, mental health and the perceived ongoing academic underperformance of groups of boys, the answers do not seem to be easy to hand. The ‘effeminate’ behaviours and images seen on social media platforms both help and hinder stereotypes and, for young people, understanding how to interpret and respond can often lead to many problems and issues for individuals, especially in terms of self-identity – but also in the absence of (many would argue) positive male role-models, from all cultural backgrounds – for young minds to aspire towards.
Yet, in their new book, Matt Pickett and Mark Roberts challenge us to frame the ‘problems’ surrounding boys – in terms of behaviour, engaging boys in their school work, and modern perceptions of masculinity – differently, arguing that schools must rethink efforts to get boys back on track.
Each chapter is written individually, each author taking a turn to explore some of the daily challenges many educators will face with certain groups of boys, including engagement; disadvantage; peer pressure; mental health; expectations; sex and sexism; in the classroom; violence, and; relationships. Further, the chapters then each set out the stories regarding the issues highlighted, then explore some of the key research, before offering practical solutions aimed at classroom teachers and school leaders. In offering solutions on addressing mental health with boys, Pickett offers ten, easily achievable, solutions that schools can adapt to make the opportunities of exploring issues, including modelling emotional openness, providing pastoral support by allowing boys the opportunities to speak to men, and taking a proactive approach to homophobia. Such policies and practice changes are simple to put into place, creating an open and supportive environment available for all students.
Expectations and staff opinions on how girls and boys are treated within a school are also explored, and a fantastic questionnaire is provided to be used with staff to explore (and challenge) beliefs that can be holding either sex back, and attention of the language used in schools should also be challenged, including often-heard phrases such as, “He’s got girly handwriting”; “man up”, or even asking, “I need a couple of big strong boys to help me move the table”. What impact might those words have on the boys and girls in your classroom?
Credit needs to be given to the issues and challenges explored by Pinkett in terms of sex and sexism, with a whole chapter looking at the problems and possible solutions to inappropriate comments or behaviours. In many schools, Pinkett argues, boys compete with hyperbolic tales of their sexual prowess; girls and boys are grabbed inappropriately and, as teachers, we need to do more to challenge these behaviours. The solutions are complex and many readers will feel uncomfortable with facing such topics as providing a pornography education or being clear on what constitutes sexism and sexist behaviour, but this important chapter provide absolute clarity on educating students about gender, sanctioning sexualised language and sexist behaviour, and being clear on what constitutes sexism and sexist behaviour.
There is a lot more I could write about the chapters within this book, and the checklist on supporting students manage violent outbursts is worth its own weight in gold, but this is not only a book on supporting boys in schools. It is about recognising the challenges boys and girls face in our schools and making behaviours and opportunities equal for all. Some individual teachers will struggle more with some groups of boys or girls, but ensuring that respect is maintained can lead to a more positive educational experience for all.
As illustrated in the article highlighted at the start of the top of this review, many beliefs, cultures and societies continue to maintain and promote certain behaviours of what it means to be male. Should boys be rough, boisterous and energetic? Yes, but why not also girls? Girls are said to be quiet, studious and groomed (well dressed). What does it mean if a boy is quiet, studious and well dressed? To me, they are traits to be celebrated no matter what gender the individual is. Respect is at the heart of this book, and it cuts all ways no matter your place in the school.
The problems identified within this book will be applicable for many schools, and the solutions offered are a fantastic starting point to address many challenging issues to ensure that the opportunities and experiences of all those attending education remain as positive and possible, no matter what your race, gender, religion or cultural background is.