Issue 5.1 (2011): Special Issue on Boys and Education

THYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies



Gender Policy in Australian Schools: A Missed Opportunity?

Gender Differences in Perceptions of School Life and Self-Concept:
Considerations for Addressing Gender in Secondary School Settings

The Primacy of Relationship in Teaching Boys

Professional Rugby League Players as Reading Mentors for Primary School Boys

“I Feel Older”: Investigating the Impacts of a Father and Son, “Rites of Passage”

Crossing Divides: An Argument Catalogue of Submissions to the 2000
Australian Government Inquiry into the Education of Boys

Instructions to Authors 2
Library Recommendation Form 99

Below is editor Deborah Hartman’s introduction to this issue:

A new trans-disciplinary field of research, Male Studies, is emerging in the United States. In 2011, the second conference in this newly emerging field has called for papers on such diverse topics and research areas as: the deep biology of the male; anthropological and psychoanalytic perspectives; sociology, public policy and health care. Boyhood Studies, with a focus on the experience of being a boy is the aspect of this field that interests me as an academic involved in the education of boys. The United States seems to be at the forefront of this groundbreaking multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary work beginning to be characterised as boyhood studies. The explicitly interdisciplinary and cross-national scope of the US journals, Thymos and Gender Issues presenting cultural, political, economic, social and behavioural analyses from diverse perspectives is a sign that the field is maturing and expanding.
In a recent review in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bartlett (2009) outlines current debates in the US about the nature of boys, boyhood and boys’ education. While debates about the education of boys have occurred in similar ways in most Western countries over the past 15 years, and similar concerns about male identities, male health and academic and social outcomes for boys have also been growing for over a decade, the emerging dialogue between disparate voices is a welcome positive step towards gaining some clarity on issues affecting boys and men. However, as all of these recent publications and conferences reveal, the field remains highly contested and is characterised by rather rigid, entrenched positions related to theoretical and methodological stances. The debate can seem convoluted and the various theories making sense of the debate seem incommensurable. The Fall 2009 edition of Thymos (Groth, 2009) was devoted to discussions of the nature and status of Boyhood Studies that highlighted some of these divisions.

As I put the final touches on the introduction to this edition of Thymos, women all over the world are celebrating 100 years of International Women’s Day. All day I have been listening to radio programs highlighting the achievements of women and the challenges still facing us. I have been struck by how the discussion has often veered towards the need to see women’s needs in the contexts of their relationships. Prominent women’s rights advocates and feminist scholars discussing issues of women’s health, employment, income, and violence towards women have all alluded to the need to see women’s issues as connected to those of men and fathers in ways that emphasise mutual cooperation and interdependency – not just those negative relationships of perpetrators and victims; winners and losers. This seems to me to be a recent shift in the discourse about women and girls that will have important ramifications for the discussion about boys.

The discussion about boys’ education in the early 1990s was characterised by a great fear that attention to boys would lead to neglect of girls and a rolling back of the hard won gains made by girls in education. In Australia, the current policy impasse in boys’ education still means that much of the discussion in the field of boys’ education is characterised by policies and practices that do not seem able to encompass a general focus on pedagogy as well as strategies that directly address boys’ educational needs; or an emphasis on girls as well as boys; or an emphasis on boys in specific socio-economic or cultural groups as well as boys generally; or an emphasis on biology, maturity and developmental stages as well as the social dimensions of masculinity; or an emphasis on academic as well as social and emotional outcomes. These seemingly oppositional binaries are fuelled by competing academic discourses that do not seem to be able to incorporate concepts from other theoretical and epistemological traditions.

It seems that the time is now ripe for a more mature discussion about the intersecting needs and interests between and within genders and for a discussion about boys’ education that could overcome some of these crippling intellectual impasses inherited from the previous decades.
In this edition of Thymos, we showcase research and practice that emphasises a Practitioner Stance to educating boys. I am very excited about the contribution the articles in this edition of Thymos will make to the emerging field of boyhood studies.
There is a strong Australian flavour to this edition. Most of the articles in this edition report on Australian research. They grew out of the work of the Family Action Centre, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle. Dr Victoria Clay and I have both been involved in developing teaching materials; conducting professional development activities; as well as the post graduate teaching and research activities of the Boys in Schools program of the centre for several years. The articles we have contributed here grew out of our doctoral studies.
Two other contributors to this edition, Suzan Hirsch and Bill Jennings are experienced school teachers who’ve both completed their Masters of Education studies in the online Specialisation in Educating Boys developed and taught at the centre. Their articles grew out of their masters research interests and their work as teachers of boys.
In addition, there is also a welcome article by prominent North American researchers in the field of male studies. They report on their international research conducted in many boys’ schools.

In the first article I have contributed, describing the rise of boys’ education as an issue in Australia, I call for a stronger social change in our research and practice in education that would enable us to work in trans-disciplinary ways and would enable us to bring together the insights from disparate theoretical, political and practical positions in ways that would support good outcomes for boys. Research that brings together feminist perspectives and perspectives from the men’s movement; biological and social; affective and cognitive; practical and theoretical – this is the kind of research that would move the field of boyhood studies towards groundbreaking knowledge of use to practitioners, parents and boys. It seems to me that the time is ripe for this kind of research in this emerging field. Not that I am under any illusions that this would be an easy task.

Victoria Clay’s paper, about her research in a variety of different types of Australian schools with very different student cohorts, emphatically shows both the clear overall differences between boys’ and girls’ experiences of schooling and the complexity and changeability of those experiences. She concludes that an ecological approach that incorporates both the individual and the social is a useful way to look at boys’ experiences of schooling.

Michael Reichert’s international study in several boys’ schools clearly identifies the importance of the relationships between teachers and boys, reinforcing Victoria’s points about the importance of the affective domain, as well as highlighting the interaction between personality and personal qualities of the teacher and their pedagogies. In Australia, there has been a great deal of research effort into effective pedagogy. When we first began conducting professional development programs in Australian schools the most common question raised by teachers in the discussion about boys’ education was “Isn’t it just good teaching?” The boys and teachers in this US study make it very clear that good teaching for boys involves close supportive relationships with teachers who really care about them and the subjects they teach.

In turn, Suzan Hirch’s compelling accounts of engaging young boys in literacy activities by working with the somewhat unlikely reading role models of rugby league players demonstrates the strong link between boys’ interests, boys’ identities as males and engagement. Almost as an aside, she demonstrates the excellent pedagogy for boys that the dedicated teachers in this program developed.

Continuing with the theme of the importance of male identities and relationships, Bill Jennings’s research on a father/son program shows how attention to the father/son relationship at the important time of adolescence can have profound effect on both boys and dads. He emphasises that the education of boys is a holistic enterprise and that schools can support the important relationships in a boys’ life as well as develop strong school/family partnerships through programs like this.

In my final contribution I examine the ways boys’ education was discussed by parents, practitioners, policy makers and academics in submissions to the Australian inquiry into boys’ education in 2000. I conclude that while the divisions and differences of opinion are clearly evident, there is also some remarkable convergence of views that give us some exciting possibilities to shape research and practice in useful ways. I also argue that the methodology of ‘argument catalogue’ is a useful way to analyse different text types to shed light on similarities and differences in any social field.

The research that all of these papers describe could be characterised as qualitative social research that is evidence-based, strengths based and solution focused. All of the papers emphasise the relational nature of boys’ identities, relationships and learning. They all echo themes in broader discussions about the nature of education – that education should be transformative and fair or just for all. The debate about the education of boys in Australia and the USA has always been strongly connected to debates about social justice including equity for Indigenous and first nations peoples and for migrants and refugees. Gender always intersects with other social factors. What I find exciting in the articles in this edition, is the voices of excellent practitioners who are finding the ways to bring out, develop and expand on the wonderful variety of strengths that boys from these diverse backgrounds bring to schooling and to their male identities.

The articles in this edition continue the discussion on the nature of boyhood studies and often also describe innovative school based approaches to boys’ education that have been highly successful for the students and adults involved. They illustrate the complex ways that boys’ and girls’ experiences of schooling differ and impact on their academic outcomes. They offer great examples of what can happen when teachers adopt strengths-based approaches that do not ignore structural inequalities. They point towards new areas of research and trans-disciplinary collaboration that could improve outcomes for all boys and girls. I hope you enjoy this edition as much as I have enjoyed editing it.

Warm regards, Deborah Hartman.

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January 2013: Open call for editorial board members for The Journal of Men’s Studies