why girls learn faster than boys – and how to level the playing field
If you are female and reading this, I’m sure you are aware that girls are outperforming boys in schools. If you’re male, please go get a woman so she can explain any big words. Yes, there is a “crisis” in boys’ education.
‘Oh my gods! That means the curriculum is too feminised! Quick, introduce crocodile wrestling to the classroom! Rollout crocodiles to every school, stat!’
Hold on for a second, Mr Garrett. Before we embark upon the Crocodile Education Revolution, perhaps we should have a look at why girls are performing better than boys in schools.
Like Julie Andrews pretending to be a nun, let us start at the very beginning. Most children’s first experience with books is in being read to by a parent. Statistically, that parent is most likely to be “the mother”. And thus begins the modelling of reading as “feminine”. It is this cultural modelling that needs a revolution if boys are ever going to “catch up” to their distaff counterparts. We have a surprising tendency to attribute gender to things that have no gender. This isn’t France or ancient Rome, and yet Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Metalwork, Woodwork, Sport – these are all regularly described as “boys’ subjects”. And English? Well, as I am often told by underperforming students at the high schools where I teach, “English is gay”. This is another issue. Homophobic put-downs have been disassociated from homosexuality itself and are instead used as an insult related to anything that does not conform to the mainstream stereotypes of being a boy. English and reading are “for girls”. It is a flawed culture that creates these misconceptions, and this must be ameliorated.
The concept of jocks bullying nerds is so ingrained insociety that it has become an instantly-recognisable trope. Who are the main people held up as role models for boys in our society? Sportsmen. We live on a planet where men are constantly called “heroes” just for playing with a ball. For male students as a cohort, Physical Education is the subject in which excellence is valued. Otherwise working hard (or at all) at schoolwork is not seen as (for want of a better word) “cool”. This would be less of a problem if boys didn’t care if their friends know they are “stupid”. When boys can’t read at a functional level, they can’t do most of their schoolwork. Since they’re not allowed to do anything else in class, when boys can’t do their schoolwork, they get bored. And when they’re bored, they disrupt class and show off like peacocks. Reading may not be a “masculine” skill, but scrunching up your work into a ball and throwing it in an arc so it lands in (or near) the recycling bin across the room? That exemplifies almost everything our culture says makes one a man. Maybe the boys will even throw in some swearing as a bonus.
Standing up to authority figures, being a rebel and disrupting class is “cool”. And thus the cycle continues. Ask your average boy who the football premiers are, and they will probably know. Ask the same child who won the Miles Franklin Award. (No answer?) Ask them what the Miles Franklin Award is. (Still no?) How about, “Who was Miles Franklin?” (“Hold on”, you say. “Most girls probably don’t know who Miles Franklin was either.” Perhaps, but girls are statistically far more likely to be readers and to enjoy reading.)
Okay, so boys aren’t doing as well as girls at school. So what? Why should we care? Boys grow up to be men and will still get better jobs and more money and “blah, blah, blah, um… girl power… feminism, do you know what I mean?” (to quote noted intellectual Melanie Brown in Spice World.) Well, if you have children or ever intend to have them (and grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.) then there is a fifty-percent chance that each of these children will be a boy. Even if none of your descendants will ever be male, unless you send your girls to a single-sex school, their own education is suffering and will continue to suffer as a result of classes disrupted by boys. And even if you do send your girls to all-girl schools, if you’re ever going to have those grandchildren, you don’t really want your girls to potentially end up with an illiterate baby daddy who has nothing to show from 13 years of education except the ability to throw scrunched-up paper in the vague direction of a rubbish bin. And on the topic of rubbish, our society loves to emphasise the lengths it will go to so our children can inherit the planet. We will ban plastic bags, tax carbon emissions, ride bicycles, etc. So why won’t we go to similar lengths to ensure that our children aren’t stupid?
If we are ever going to change this educational culture (or lack thereof), fathers need to be involved in reading with boys at pre-school ages and continue to help them with their reading through their primary school years. Fathers need to read books themselves and help model a culture in which it is okay for boys to be intelligent. Parents and teachers must affirm that there are no boys’ subjects and there are no girls’ subjects – all school subjects are gender neutral. We know that when boys get bad grades they just say they “didn’t try”. We need to change this culture of apathy. Not trying is unacceptable: “there is no try.” Just “do”. And girls? Perhaps you should stop going out with boys who are dumber than you. If girls never snogged a boy who was academically failing, most guys would start to turn doing well at school into a challenge. Instead of belittling “teachers’ pets”, boys should learn to make a new game of ‘playing’ the teachers. Girls know how to do this – to bring equipment to class every lesson; get it out; sit up straight; listen; answer questions; ask questions.
And in related news, if you can come up with a use for tenthousand surplus crocodiles, please email Peter Garrett at the Department ofEducation.
By Jordan Morris