A new study says male elementary teachers live in a steady state of anxiety, with 13 per cent reporting they had been wrongly accused of inappropriate contact with students.
That’s the lead-in to this article (Globe and Mail, 10/18/10). It reports on a study of Canadian male primary school teachers, and apparently they don’t find the schoolroom to be a very hospitable place.
“I live life on the edge every day I step into the classroom. All it takes is one parent or fellow teacher to perceive that the line between nurturing and pedophil(ia) is blurry and I am a dead duck!’
The article points out that the percentage of male teachers at the primary level has fallen below 20% and is dropping. In one university’s education department, only 5% of students intending to be teachers are male.
“It is now possible for a child in Canada to go through elementary school and high school and never see a male at the front of the class,’ says Jon Bradley, an associate professor of education at McGill University.
That by itself may not be a problem. After all, in the United States, for essentially all of the 20th century, primary and secondary education was almost exclusively female-taught. And during most of that time, boys performed perfectly well; it’s only been in the last 40 years or so that boys have begun to lag. Now, for the last 20 years at least, boys’ performance in school has become critical. In the U.S. only about 42% of college enrollees are male. In primary and secondary schools, boys are far more likely than girls to drop out, be suspended or expelled, be diagnosed with a personality or learning disorder, commit suicide, etc. The question is “why?” There’s no clear evidence that the lack of male teachers is the only reason, but the corresponding lack of fathers almost certainly plays a huge role. In short, it’s not only possible for a boy to never see a man at the head of his class, it’s also possible for him never to see a man at the head of his dinner table. Whatever the problems boys experience from the lack of male teachers, couple that with a lack of fathers and you’ve got problems. And we do. Recruiting more men into the teaching ranks won’t be easy. The job is hard and pays poorly, and when you toss in the fact that you’ve got a one-in-eight chance of being charged with child molestation, it’s hard to see the attraction. The truth, I strongly suspect, is that we won’t solve our problem of boys’ performance in school until we solve our problem of fathers’ absence from children’s lives. And we won’t do that until we radically transform the divorce and child custody industry in ways that ensure the continuing relationship between fathers and children post divorce. Whatever else may be true, our experiment with easy divorce and non-enforcement of fathers’ rights has proved to be a disaster for boys. It’s long past time for major change. Interestingly, the Globe and Mail article skips from the lack of male teachers to the problems boys are having in school. That’s a worthwhile topic of course, but I can’t help but notice that the author gave short shrift to the obvious – the problems male teachers are having in schools. I don’t know the laws in Canada about sexual harrassment in the workplace, but if they’re anything like the ones in the U.S., the conditions there look a lot like a “hostile workplace environment.” Indeed, that’s exactly what the teachers are describing – a workplace in which they live in fear of being falsely accused of one of the worst crimes our society recognizes – child sexual abuse. What I’d like to know is what those school districts are doing to make sure male teachers aren’t subjected to indiscriminate and false allegations. What’s being done to parents, teachers or others who make those false allegations? Are female teachers similarly targeted? If so, they need protection too; if not, it suggests discrimination based on sex. As I said, the issue of boys’ underperformance is real and vital. But it may or may not have much to do with the relative absence of male teachers. What is unquestionably important is the targeting of male teachers for claims of sexual abuse of children. That’s an aspect of the problem that Canadian law can and should deal with immediately whatever its impact may be on children. Thanks to Jeremy for the heads-up.