Disengagement of boys from education
By Peter Tromp, MsC, 14 September 2009
This comment was written in reaction to the article “Truancy: a costly societal illness” by Michael Irwin PhD, that was published on July 19, 2009 in the Guest Forum of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research (NZCPR).
The issues raised by Michael Irwin PhD as a NZCPR Forum Guest in “Truancy: a costly societal illness” are both most relevant and interesting to the future of a well educated and competitive modern New Zealand society.
But in the way they are treated by Mr. Irwin they are still covering up other most essential real issues underlying the presently staggering and still rising disengagement of mainly boys from the educational system.
Those real underlying issues that are hiding behind the disengagement of boys from education are in my findings in (a) the feminisation of education (both on the curricular and the organisational levels of the educational system), as well as in (b) the feminisation of the families where these boys are raised in.
The feminised educational system at present is almost exclusively “manned” by female teachers who are not much of a challenging role model to boys, are they?! And as we know from educational history, adequate and challenging role models are and have always been most important to any students to inspire them and set their horizons in striving for.
Also the curriculum and learning environment reforms of the past decades were almost exclusively driven by the intent to accomodate to female students in the school populations better, while the needs of male students were completely neglected in these reforms. Girls not boys needed the “safe” learning environment, that Michael Irwin is now still promoting and talking about in his article. A safe learning environment where nobody was to be judged on his/her personal abilities, results or failures. And girls not boys preferred to work in groups where individual performances were covered up in the group performance. etc. etc. And these are just examples, as the list of accomodating the school curriculum and learning environment exclusively to girls is sheer endless.
It is in part true that boys generally need more activity driven and challenging education as Mr. Irwin already suggests in his article. But what he seems to be driving at between the lines is a return to the more traditional forms of practical activity driven vocational education for boys and that is only a solution for parts of the male student population in education. For their emancipation and uplifting in the educational system, boys need to be challenged by a more personally competitive and challenging learning environment on the academic levels instead of the proposed vocational levels, as the proposed practical vocational education has an inate tendency to lead to reproduction of existing social inequalities and leads boys to further “demancipation” instead of “emancipation”.
Also the second pressing issue of a feminising home environment in todays Kiwifamilies where boys are raised in, is not addressed by Mr. Irwin. A third of all NZ boys are now raised in single parent motherheaded families. In these loneparent families these boys find no challenging male role models to inspire them and set them on course, but instead many of these boys are themselves “parentified” at an early age to meet the female parent’s need of “a man in the house”. In these families boys are not only growing up isolated from their fathers, but they are also isolated from half of their extended families, i.e. their paternal extended family, having to grow up in a socially isolated and excluded social environment at home. This drives these boys to the streets to find their role models among their peers. I don’t need to go into further details what this leads to I guess.
To summarise my argument: If the present deplorable situation of boys in education really goes us at heart, and it should for the future of our societies, then we should really face up to the “the full monty” of deplorable realities, that these boys are now facing up to in both their families as well as in the educational system, when growing up. And although Mr. Irwin has made a good and challenging start, what is needed is a far more profound analysis and insight into what is going on in the lives of boys in education today to really change it around.
Peter Tromp MsC
Educational psychologist, Netherlands
Father Knowledge Centre Europe