It’s no secret (to anyone except possibly education policy makers) that boys aren’t doing well in school. They’re more likely than girls to drop out, commit suicide, be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, be medicated for same, be disciplined and not go to college. Some 42% of college enrollees are young men.
It’s also no secret that male teachers at the primary and secondary levels are rare birds indeed and becoming rarer. About 20% of those teachers are men and it has been stated many times that a child can go from kindergarten through 12th grade and never be taught by a man.
Exactly how that might affect the academic performance of boys is an open question. But when the lack of male teachers is paired with the lack of fathers in children’s lives, it becomes all too obvious that there is a yawning adult male gap for many children including of course many boys.
If boys often find schools inhospitable to them and their educational needs, so do the few male teachers there are. A survey of male primary school teachers done recently in Canada revealed that 13% had had a false allegation of improper touching leveled against them. That’s a lot of false allegations, certainly enough to scare the wits out of any man who’s had to deal with one.
But even if a male teacher hasn’t been so unlucky, he’s doubtless aware of the possibility. The implicit threat of false allegations can cause a classic “chilling effect” on how male teachers behave toward their students. Teachers in the Canadian study reported exactly that.
All of which gives a bit of perspective to this story (Daily Mail, 11/13/10). It seems that
Researchers from Westminster University, the London School of Economics and the graduate business school INSEAD carried out an experiment involving 1,200 pupils aged 12-13 in 29 schools.
And what they found was that
Pupils try harder for male teachers, according to an official study.
They make more effort to please them, display greater self-esteem and are more likely to believe they are being treated fairly…
Children had a more ‘positive perception of the rewards” of their effort despite the fact the males were not any more lenient.
Both boys and girls also showed greater confidence in their ability.
Researchers said the findings were ‘new and significant” as the effects were evident for every male teacher in the experiment.
They said the study ‘reveals that pupils taught by male teachers tend to have better perceptions of the importance of hard work, better perceptions of equalities of opportunities and higher self-esteem.
‘This experiment shows that male teachers may be beneficial for both male and female pupils, increasing motivation and effort.”
Doubtless this study isn’t definitive, but it’s certainly suggestive. And what it suggests, apart from the obvious, is that adult male figures can have a beneficial effect on children of both sexes. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; children need adults of both sexes to look to and model themselves after. With radically fewer fathers in homes than only 30 years ago, schools are the next place in which kids spend a large amount of their time and that provide consistent adult presence and guidance.
Male teachers will never replace fathers. But the revolution in family life that began in the early 1970s and that resulted in the wholesale separation of fathers from their children has yet to be answered by a system of family law bent on reuniting the two. Until that happens, male students in primary and secondary schools could be a pale second best.