By Jack Campbell, Mathematics Teacher
Gender is a significant factor that affects the social, emotional and academic development of young people. At Garden International School (GIS), staff are conscious of both the similarities and differences in how boys and girls develop socially, emotionally and academically and have an acute awareness of the influence that gender-related factors have on teenagers in particular.
The link between gender and academic achievement has been the subject of a significant body of research that traces its history at least as far back as John Locke who, in 1693, expressed his concern at what he considered the ‘underachievement’ of boys in their studies of French, Latin, and Ancient Greek. This is a something still seen today- in almost all economically developed countries, females outperform males at secondary school as measured by virtually any available metric.
To fully support the education of teenage boys and to help reduce this achievement gap, an effort must be made to understand the dominant views and ideas that relate to masculinity within society. Many of these ideas are so ingrained in us we are constantly influenced by them, often without us realising. This set of dominant views is known as ‘hegemony’ and differs between cultures, groups, families and indeed between schools. In many Western cultures, research suggests that the hegemonic view of masculinity, particularly amongst young people, is centered on characteristics not necessarily conducive to academic success- for instance, toughness, humour and being attractive to females as well as a tendency to withdraw effort in order to ‘save face’ when confronted with the possibility of ‘failure’.
Hegemony also has the potential to negatively influence a student’s emotional development. Students who do not identify with the dominant ideas of masculinity that they are consciously and subconsciously exposed to can be the victims of bullying and their emotional health may suffer, something compounded by the fact that many hegemonies of masculinity discourage males from talking about their feelings.
At GIS, teachers and school leaders recognise that they can play a role in helping shape an inclusive hegemony and have helped create an environment that supports healthy and diverse forms of masculinity which in turn contributes to boys’ positive academic and social development. Parents too play an important role and to fully support the emotional and academic development of their sons, they must be conscious of the ideas of masculinity that they implicitly and explicitly promote.
Given the pervasive nature of hegemony, parents and teachers must recognise that they are just two pieces of a very large puzzle and that society as a whole plays a large role in endorsing certain forms of masculinity above others, something particularly true in the age of social media in which boys are exposed to literally thousands more images per week than they would have been as little as ten years ago. However, strong partnerships between parents and educators as well as an awareness of the impact that concepts of masculinity can have on teenagers will help secure the social and academic development of our young men.