There’s a concern about boys struggling or failing in schools. There’s an awful lot of talk about numeracy, literacy, visual understanding, feminisation of the curriculum, and feminisation of the early years of teaching. One of the things we need to do in education is to separate the pop from the psychology, and consider what is actually happening. The issue of boys’ education is diverse. One of the most challenging issues for parenting boys is how we develop their male identity, particularly in a bigger setting like a school.
How do we help our sons define or develop their male identity? What are the ideas of masculinity that we honour over and above others? If you’ve got boys in school, there’ll often be stuff in the newsletter sent home all about the boys’ education debate. Parents can tackle part of it by considering this notion of masculinity. What sort of a male do I want my boy to be? What’s important for me about being male? What happened in my male identity when I went through school? How was I fathered? How am I actually getting those attitudes, beliefs, notions and faith across to my son in my parenting? Have I ever questioned it?
One of the key things to do is to acknowledge that there are different masculinities. We’re very different. The developing of a masculine identity is very different for an indigenous boy up north than for a migrant in a rural town.
We need to challenge what happens in schools – in our newsletter, in how teachers talk to kids, and in how we have our assemblies. Who’s listened to, at home and at school? Who’s silenced in the conversations you have? Who are the ones we privilege with our attention? Kids pick this up very clearly.
We need to move away from blaming what boys are doing and listen respectfully to their concerns. What are your concerns about some of the injustices that happen at school? Who are the kids that are alienated, silenced, marginalised because they’re different? They’re weak, they’re a girl’s blouse, they’re a shirt lifter; they’re not as tough; they’re not drinking as much; they’re not jumping off the top of the roof; or they haven’t got notches on their belt from conquests. They don’t fit the mould. Make time for your boys to share those concerns about being different and not fitting in.
Understanding different masculinities
The other idea that you’ll need to challenge while working with young boys is that there is no ideal masculinity. There are different masculinities, different abilities, and maybe we need to celebrate that difference publicly within the school setting and the family. Talk with them, get into their world, opening up space to hear their concerns, and reflect back on your own concerns and misgivings. There’s no one size fits all. Men are very different. Masculinity will also be as diverse as they are people.
Have a look at your own fathering. What view of masculinity or male characteristics do you want out of your son? How is this promoted or reinforced in what happens around the family, how you interact, your own attitudes, your involvement in particular sports or particular interest groups, and your own beliefs?
One way that we need to do it is to make sure that we’re really supportive of our boys in their personal lives, their relationships, their role in the community, their workaday life, and to be there and be supportive of them no matter what they do. Spend time with them rather than being judgemental about how you perceive them to be, or how you think they should be.