Such a whoop-de-doo over Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence's vision statement which was released this week. You'd think it was the second coming the way the media fell all over his proposal for an all-boys school.
Now I can't pretend to be an education specialist, although I did take a few courses in university and was a supply high school teacher for a while. Still something about all of this has struck a nerve -- not only with me but for many others, at least judging by the email from teachers.
But, before I get to that, here's today's treeware column on the subject, with some links and notes.
Let's leave aside the fact that newly appointed Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence's "A Vision of Hope!" focuses on the struggles of just one sex.
And let's also not get too worked up about his proposed name for his new boys-only "Male Leadership Academy'' – as if men don't already run most governments, religions, corporations, universities, media and more.
Let us, instead, consider the idea of segregating boys at risk in order to give them the grounding they need to progress to graduation and productive lives.
In some ways, I am all for it.
That's because I lived it, at least in part, in Grades 1 through 7 back in the olden, still sexist '60s.
Schoolyards and entrances separated boys and girls, before class, during recess and lunch.
On our side, skipping and clapping games, hopscotch, Red Rover and Christmas sticker trading (even though I attended predominately Jewish schools).
Over in the wild frontier – which, by the way, was much bigger than our pen and included a football field – boys flipped hockey cards, played touch football and the profoundly physical British Bulldog. As for the geeks, they would show off their latest model or Meccano construction.
Inside, we were thrown together, except for gym and the hateful Home Ec and the infinitely more interesting Industrial Arts.
Now understand that I am not for streaming girls into Home Ec and boys into IA. In fact, today I heard from quite a few men who tell me that they have no use for the skills they learned in shop and would have been much better off had they known how to boil an egg. Believe me, I get that. I could cook rings around any Home Ec teacher, sew, knit, crochet and clean with the best of them, all of which I learned at home. But today I still am constantly on the hunt for handymen (or women) who expect $35 an hour or more to install a light fixture or repair a leaking tap. That said, there should be classes available for those student -- probably mostly boys -- with mechanical aptitude and interest.
It worked out pretty well, at least for the boys. By the time they had to sit up with their hands folded, most had expended the energy that would have, instead, caused them restlessness and inattention.
There is no question that, in the earlier years, all other factors being equal, girls listen and read better than boys. Later, it evens out, with boys excelling at math – although I am not convinced that that's not cultural.
Now take me for instance. A high school flunkie after failing both algebra and math. I was far more pre-occupied with getting the kink out of my hair to achieve the then-popular London Look than with doing equations or bisecting triangles. However, later in life, I scored straight As in all the math-based courses while going for my MBA.
Still, the sad fact is, according to StatsCan numbers for 2006/7, one out of three boys doesn't graduate from high school while one out of four girls doesn't make it (with many female dropouts attributed to pregnancy, by the way).
But really, is the education system at fault – or is it a society that rewards macho-macho men, extreme athletes and action, and a blow-them-up culture of violence? And what about a system that makes it unattractive for men to take up teaching?
Not that I believe a male teacher is necessarily better for a boy than a female teacher although, admittedly, in some instances, it might help. Trouble is, teaching, especially at the elementary level is considered women's work, pays women's wages and, for men, is fraught with the risk of being accused of liking kids a little too much, if you get my drift.
Fact is, if you pay attention to the cruel stories out of British upper- crust schools, it seems that girls' presence has a mitigating effect on that Lord of the Flies brutality – although females do better academically in the absence of boys.
That's true. Girls do not want to appear to be smarter than boys, for one thing. And, when boys are around, they are more concerned with attracting them, whether actively though flirtation or, in some cases, passively, by rolling up one's hair with a jar of Dippity-Do and sitting under a dryer, wasting hours that would be better devoted to study
Oh don't get me started on those two. I interviewed Parker when her book came out, a book I ripped to shreds for its bogus claims and fallacious conclusions. Like I said in another post, for people like this, it's a zero sum game. They say that, when women gain, men lose. I say bullsh*t.
As if high-school dropouts did not exist in the stay-at-home-mom 1950s.
But look at some of these dropouts. Albert Einstein. Self-made billionaire Richard (Virgin Airways) Branson. Director Quentin Tarentino. Inventor Thomas Edison.
You can count U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners, artists, bestselling authors and businessmen among them.
"Statistical differences do exist between men and women," she writes.
"But statistics should never speak for individuals, restrict their choices, or justify unfair practices."
Which is what a vision statement that all but excludes girls will do.
That's why it gets an F from me.
Actually, that just one of the reasons.
The presumption being made, both by Spence and the media, is that girls have arrived. That they no longer have learning issues.
Which is bogus. As one high school teacher wrote to me:
It's not so much that boys don't have problems that are specific to their gender, it is that as Director, he is responsible not just to his "pet project" of helping boys succeed.
What about the increased level of violent incidents perpetrated by girls?
Or the fact that Julian Falconer highlighted that girls are commonly victims of sexual harassment and assault in our schools? Where is the plan to address those issues? Where is the plan to help girls - notorious underachievers in maths and science (unless placed in gender-specific classes interestingly enough), for example - to do better in those courses?
Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with helping boys succeed. I just have a problem when it is the only focus in the vision of the director of the fifth largest board in North America.
Then, when I read the editorials in the Star and Globe, both tepidly accept at face value the notion that focusing exclusively on boys is okay. Actually the Globe disgustingly suggests that for the past two decades its been all about empowering girls, and now it's the boys' turn! How can that even be conceived of as accurate when girls are still the daily victims of sexual assault and harassment in our schools.
Great points. Incredible how the media seem to have such a short attention span, given everything that was said in last year's Falconer report on school violence.
But there's more to it than that.
I live near a middle school. Today I was walking my dog at lunch and passed a bunch of kids (sexually mature girls towering over still little boys) eating the usual corner store crap. I crossed the street at the crosswalk where a Porsche stopped to let me through. You would have thought, from the boys' reaction, that a UFO just landed. All goggle-eyed. The girls, of course, were oblivious.
Hey, we are different. Very different. I don't deny that for a second.
But maybe there are other solutions instead of segregating boys, which won't help them much in the real world.
For one thing, not all boys are at risk. Nor are the risks the same. Socioeconomic factors are at play here, for example. So are sexuality and ethnicity.
Maybe what we need are some more technical streams. If boys are more interested in how things work, then maybe we need schools and classes more focussed on such courses.
Maybe smaller teacher-to-student ratios would allow those children who have special needs to get the attention they deserve -- and that includes the smart, studious kids.
Maybe we ought to look at starting boys a year later in Grade 1?
What we should not be considering is the attitude put out there by Spence in a story today.
Wayne Martino, a professor at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of the recently released book Boys and Schooling: Beyond Structural Reform, said "working-class boys do less well than working-class girls – but middle-class boys do better than working-class girls," so programs targeting boys overlook other needy groups. "We also have evidence in Toronto that the race gap is much larger than any gender gap," he added.
He said segregating boys can actually reinforce stereotypes that they are expected to think and act one way, and that so-called "boy-friendly" learning doesn't necessarily prepare them for the real world.
Spence acknowledged the mixed research, but said much of it has focused on older boys; he proposes a school starting at kindergarten.
"I think what we are trying to do is truly groundbreaking in terms of starting with a kindergarten to Grade 3 model and building as we grow," said Spence, who has authored two books on boys and learning.
Many classrooms are based on co-operation, "but boys thrive on competition," Spence said. "... When you've got a majority of teachers who are female, that might not be the natural inclination for them to bring competition into the classroom in a balanced kind of way."
Wrote another teacher:
Personally, I think that a proposed all-boys school has very little to do with boys learning and more to do with keeping enrollment up in TDSB. I also think that the real target will not be boys from fatherless families, but those families from cultures who value the separation of boys and girls. If we have schools for boys, we will need schools for girls. What will be the hidden curriculum for girls? To be leaders or servants?