Recently UK’s government conceded that there is a qualification inflation. It stated that more pupils get top grades today than they did forty years ago. This has raised questions about the quality of education and the disparity between academically gifted and less-able pupils in our education system.
It is a fact that every year our British schools are failing hundreds of thousands of young people – particularly boys. Yet very little is written about this. We should, therefore, question what – and how – we deliver education. Specifically, we should examine the thinking that governs teaching and how it impacts teenage boys.
Firstly, there are a variety of factors that have alienated boys from education and learning.
In the last few decades, we have observed a trend towards the feminisation of the curriculum reflected in school subjects and HE courses. This has come in the form of modularisation, the promotion of ‘soft’ subjects – gender studies, women studies – the dismantling of vocational courses like woodwork and metalwork in favour of social sciences, and the promotion of a liberal agenda in the form of equality and diversity – the obligatory components of a lesson plan. The recent – albeit, well-intentioned – inclusion of sex education, safeguarding, radicalisation, FGM, people trafficking and gender politics have made schools and colleges places of social engineering as opposed to places of learning.
The fact of the matter is that today’s schooling is all about adaptation and change. This is contributing to the polarisation evident in public discourse about education.
For instance, the recent British schools’ policy to teach pupils and teachers about the ‘correct’ use of language when discussing gender binaries and multiple sex identities, has given rise to political correctness that defies reality. Today teachers arevinstructed to address pupils based on how they feel – not how they are defined biologically nor by what they look like. The fact that there are only two sexes – and have been since the beginning of time – is challenged rather vociferously.
This very idea that teachers have to use particular language when addressing male and female pupils (and can be disciplined if they don’t) should make us pause and reflect on the absurdity of the situation.
Bearing in mind, transgender only affects a very tiny minority of schools’ population, it is quite alarming how such topics are given so much prominence in our pupils’ programme of learning. It’s almost as if the minority interests supersede the interests of the majority. The exception is presented as the mainstream, the norm. Our world view, language and perception are legislated on and imposed upon our pupils.
Such reshaping of the perception of the world in which our pupils live, should concern us all. Orwell made this clear in his dystopian novel 1984 where a totalitarian regime strips language down to the bone in order to control its citizens’ thought process.
Similarly, in our world where we question the nature of facts and truth, we should, as educationalists, question all directives compelling schools to use particular, neutral semantics. This is appearing through an insidious radical surge. New Wave feminism attacking patriarchy has over taken social policy with very little public debate/discourse. Boys and their interests are being marginalised in favour of homegenous spaces and female interests.
Yet we cannot ignore biological differences; we have to acknowledge them. We have to stop comparing boys’ achievement with girls because both sexes develop at different paces. Whilst girls outdo boys academically until 13 or 14 – the point when they peak – boys carry on developing well into their twenties. Yet, this is not reflected in the decreasing number of boys applying to universities. Why is this?
I would go as far as to say that today’s schooling has emasculated boys to the point that they are being robbed of the very masculinity that defines them. For instance, schools discourage contact sports and other avenues for releasing energy; they molly coddle boys, feminise their behaviour; sanitise their environment by removing all ‘dangerous’ obstacles such as cricket balls, conkers and even paper planes. Playground sports like ‘British bulldog’ and, in some cases, football are banned lest pupils get hurt.
Moreover, athletics, competitive and track sports have more or less been side-lined. Instead of celebrating boys’ prowess, strength, speed and agility and their individual achievement, we offer participatory medals to everyone – irrespective of their ability.
This is also reflected in the classroom.
Boys’ vitality, their energy and liveliness are often diagnosed as hyperactivity or worse still, ADHD. Instead of harnessing that energy, we submerge it by regulating their natural instincts to be active and physical. Today’s boys are effectively subdued into submission by force, threat and medicine such as Ritalin that comatose them. Yet – according to Ofsted – classrooms should be places of interaction, of excitement, of fun.
The point of they matter is that we give too much credence to ADHD, gender binaries, Islamaphobia because they are part and parcel of new-speak that make the school environment alienating for the vast majority of our boys.
The supression, the distinction between boys and girls are becoming blurred or less defined.
Take, for instance, school uniform and girls’ right to wear trousers (and through that very logic, boys’ right to wear skirts). Where does it end? It seems that cultural aspects that have defined the two sexes for hundreds of years are no longer valid. Instead we have created social confusion and obfuscation partly thorough social fads but partly through our over-weaning desire to be politically correct.
So it has to be said that education has really turned into a tool for political indoctrination. It is not so much knowledge but political correctness that’s taught and prioritised. In classrooms, we have reduced knowledge into a unitised commodity – something that is packaged, delivered and measured into sizeable chunks. Children are not robotic entities; they develop at different paces; they learn in different ways – through a variety of tools – and their interest in the world differs depending on their social, political and cultural background. By confusing pupils and alienating boys, it merely exacerbates problems relating to engagement and achievement.
The current state of education makes me wonder whether I would have pursued a degree course if today’s climate existed some thirty odd years ago. Would I have subjected myself to a national project that is more political than educational? Would I really have studied English if I had to pay a tuition fee of over £9,000 per year? Wouldn’t I have seriously questioned its merit, its intrinsic value? Would such a degree in humanities been of any worth? Moreover, would seeing graduates packing shelves in local supermarkets been an incentive to get myself into a debt of £50,000 or more?