gender and schooling

July 4, 2007 at 6:59 pm (essays, gender)

this one is a short tut paper from gender and education, a third year ed course that i did in 2005.

“Gender and Schooling: Still making the Difference?” attempts to abridge to two pages the entire history of attention to gender in Australian schooling since 1975. Some interesting though disparate points are raised, such as noting the role that increased retention had to play in many education reforms which have implications for gender, and that cutbacks under economic rationalism have reduced the ability of state schools to provide many services which are used predominantly by boys. These however are only treated perfunctorily, by way of introduction to the meat of the argument, which is a sharp critique of the current ‘boys in education lobby’ and in particular its claims that boys are the new disadvantaged, and that they are a clear group with distinct, separate needs which must be met in the interests of equality.

The article breaks its analysis of the presented arguments into four equal points by way of numbered headings: 1. lack of attention to class and race/ethnicity, 2. the untheorised nature of the position, 3. internal contradictions, and 4. failure to recognise gender politics. Although each of these makes valid points, I would instead shuffle them to display two more methodical, comprehensive and illuminating problems with the boys’ lobby’s claims.

The first is that gender is seen as essential. This means that the binary opposition of male and female is seen not as artificial, constructed and changeable but as natural, fixed and all-encompassing. It also allows all girls to be understood as identical in certain ways, while boys must be identical to each other, and necessarily different to the girls. The differentiating effects of ethnicity and class are not taken into account, and though this article does not mention it, neither are those of differing ability, sexual preference, sexuality, experience, inclination or the perception of any of the above.

From such a problematic premise, many more conclusions are presented as perfectly natural. Of late people are anxious to deny overt sexism, but the current doctrine ‘different but equal’ isn’t far off in service to essentialism. The ‘fundamental platform of difference’ is countered with a symmetricality which, far from tempering it, obscures any opposing thought of the structural, historical and political disadvantage of girls, heavily theorised and evidenced by feminism and still being fought. This allows the playing field to be artificially set as equal, for a competition of victimhood fought on personal needs extrapolated to compulsory stereotypes, and conflated with failures which are only relative to each other. The lobby relies on this simplified view of the world to allow the subsuming of more complex feminist strategies as its own.

The second fundamental problem is with the remedies the lobby proposes. Notwithstanding the value of many of the initiatives for various students, each is an unconnected response to a symptom. In a ‘predictable hegemonic response to uphold traditional male advantage’, the underlying structures are not addressed; they promise to reveal disadvantage as a feature of almost any group but boys. And the solution to the problems of so many of those falling within the category ‘boys’? Not nearly so simple or so reassuring.

This article contains many important points on the structures and demands of contemporary arguments about the education of boys, though they are presented in haphazard connections. In doing so, it implies a way of considering the issues which may, more than just appraising the situation, help to remedy the problems which lie below the hype.


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