Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What About the Boys?

The classic liberal inside me rails against looking at people as categories. As I’ve spoken about before I don’t like it when people accept birth as a recipe for destiny. Being born a certain race or a certain class does not determine the path for the rest of your life. This belief sits at the heart of my worldview.

Likewise I would like to believe that a person’s gender does not inevitably shape his/her life. I said I would like to believe. Gender roles are fundamental in every society. Natural and cultural values are assigned to the sexes and shape our interactions. In our society we are aiming for true equality between men and women. At this, we are failing. Boys are getting left behind.

I was thumbing through the October 25 issue of Maclean’s magazine and discovered this article. There are growing trends amongst the youth in Canada that give me pause about the future of men in our society. It is a widely known fact that universities are increasingly skewing towards women, roughly 60-40 female: male. At first I had no concern over this, but upon reading this Maclean’s article, it is clear that the trouble starts early on.

Ontario secondary schools are divided into two major streams, applied and academic. Applied is a less intensive program academically. Applied students are disproportionately male. Are we to accept that men are simply dumber than women?

The article points to the fact that males mature slower than females. This creates a gap in early years that boys may interpret as a weakness in education, turning them off. However, Maclean’s briefly points to another factor that I think may be more important.

Over the last 30 years or so education has transformed from a teacher-centred practice to a student-centred practice. The cliché of women being more in touch with their feelings, and attuned to their own emotions and thoughts allows them to succeed in this type of environment. On the other hand, boys tend to thrive when there is strong structure and a more authoritarian leader in the classroom. Part of me wants to believe that men and women don’t respond differently to different styles of teaching, but it seems they may.

In a previous era when these boys dropped out of high school they would find work in factories and shops and earn a respectable living for decades. From this healthy salary they could raise a family, and live a comfortable middle-class existence. That’s not the case anymore. What becomes of these young men?

Drop-out rates are higher for men than women. According to the article many women drop out of high school to start/raise a family (or did), young men who drop out don’t do that generally. The title of this article is what caught my eye most, “Are we raising our boys to be underachieving men?” Sometimes when I looked into the faces of my students, or think about my peers I do not see the drive and ambition I hope to. Too much apathy, and a disregard for their own futures means that they may be less bright, and frankly - dull.

I’m not a gender warrior, my point isn’t that feminism has gone too far and now everything is screwed up. I wonder now that professions are skewing female how this will affect society. I have a lifetime to watch it unfold, and so do the young boys the system isn’t working for now.

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