Resocializing our Boys:Preserving our Future

If the tide in boys' underachievement and attendant anti-social behaviour is to be stemmed a multi-pronged approach must be adopted. There needs to be a re-examination of our teaching and parenting practices. Young boys in Jamaica and elsewhere also need to see a new typology of manliness. At a time when girls are increasing their sports and career options it cannot be that boys because of "wanting to belong" are being marginalised.As part of the resocialising that needs to be done, a way has to be found in using popular culture to change what it means to be a man. Boys need to see that working hard in school, taking responsibility for their own learning and embracing literacy skills, that is, being able to read, are critical to be a real man. Just imagine the impact it would make if Vybze Kartel started singing that real men read, work hard in school and are responsible!! Just imagine if he were to go back to school!!Colleges training teachers have in recent times been facilitating reflection among thier students. This should be deepened: student teachers should critically interrogate their gender beliefs with a view to making the adjustments to be inclusive of boys and girls in their classrooms. It is time for the colleges to consider a course on Gender in the Classroom.The parenting practice of "tie the heifer, loose the bull" needs to be stopped. Boys, and not just girls need to be told "go take a book". Too many of our boys are allowed to get away with idling ad playing all day. The Froschl and Sprung article "Raising and educating healthy boys" is highly recommended for exploration. The work at Polly Ground Primary and Jericho Primary in St. Catherine may also have some lessons for us to learn. let u skeep the dialogue going. 

Comments (11)

Hyacinth Evans's picture
Hyacinth Evans

 I have found this discussion most interesting.  I have also found the reading resources very useful and I thank the facilitators for bringing some of these research findings to our attention and making them available.  I was struck by the small number of classroom teachers and others ‘on the ground and in schools’ who did not participate.  I realize that the time period is quite short and often the discussion ends before one has time to post a comment.  But it may also be that the challenge facing the teacher is so great, there are so many factors to consider, and there are no easy answers.  As a researcher located at a University I have had to be aware of the many factors that can affect boys’ participation and performance (societal, school related, classroom related, individual).  These include the notion of masculinity and gender identity – the subject of this COP discussion.  I had to remember that discussions have to be examined historically since the situation has been changing, and that in many countries (Africa, Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of South America) it is the girls who are disadvantaged – although that is also changing somewhat.  In Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean it has been shown that ethnicity, social class, rural/urban location and type of school are significant in explaining performance in Mathematics and English Language – and in some cases, gender is secondary to these other factors. Now that I am associated with a project that focuses on grades 1-3 my perspective has shifted somewhat and I am more focused on the school and the classroom.  Like Martino (the author of one of the articles posted) I have to ask: which boys?  Are we talking about primary or secondary?  Gender identity and a particular kind of masculinity have more of an influence on participation and achievement at the secondary level – when boys are more attuned to peer and societal expectations.   Are we talking about boys in the low stream?  Most of our schools practice streaming and very often we do not know how to teach the low stream. We use the same method – chalk and talk and drill and practice with the low ability students, when it is these low stream students who need more interactive approaches.  Traditional remedial approaches rarely work for this group.  This is an area that we need to understand more. Are we talking about children whose parents are involved in their child’s education? This I am learning and as the literature indicates makes a difference not only in the child’s participation in learning (and getting homework done) but ultimately in their achievement.  This parental involvement is also related to other parental characteristics that will make a parent supervise and discipline the child.  Discipline as Lindsay and Muijs found, is a critical factor that determines participation in learning.  The child has to be capable of settling down, focusing, listening, following directions, establishing relations with others.  But above all, I now ask, has the child – boy or girl – been exposed to quality teaching most of the time? I often go into primary schools and am struck by the instructional practices that I see.   Much of what I see today is similar to what I saw in classrooms in the early 80’s when I started doing research on teaching – the teacher spending an inordinate amount of time writing on the chalkboard while the children wait or write what is written.  There is very little interaction or student thinking evident.  In the name of teaching, students are given ‘work’ which is often completing the blanks.   I am told this is widespread though thankfully not all teachers teach in this manner.  So in my view, it is more important to think about good practices in classrooms – especially at the primary level. And when teachers use good instructional practices, we will see that both boys and girls will benefit. What are these best practices?  A few basic changes in teaching can transform a class from the seatwork teaching chalk and talk approach to good practice.  Just two will suffice. Ensure that students are actively engaged, and ensure that they are required to think.  Working together in groups has added bonuses the least of which is that students learn to work together.   Lindsay and Muijs (2006) findings can be helpful here.  The schools in their study identified the curriculum as one of six factors that were critical in transforming a school to one where black Caribbean and Black African children were successful. With regards to the curriculum, the strategy of successful primary schools was to “optimize interest” and emphasize the importance of “relevance and connectedness” – in the teaching learning activities.  So teachers need to give thought to the quality of the activity they ask students to participate in.  Think about relevance and connectedness to children’s experiences and knowledge.  Lindsay and Muijs also suggested that “Talk and chalk” be avoided and that ICT be used more to motivate boys and girls.  Another curriculum based intervention were literacy programmes that target boys with low levels of literacy.  The other articles posted offer some other useful guidelines. Why do we still have the kind of seatwork teaching in 2011 that existed in the 1980’s after so many workshops presented for teachers?  That is a question that I would like to answer.  We know that what teachers do and how they teach have to do with their initial teacher training.  But it has more to do with the school itself and the expectations and guidelines of the principal and other teachers in the school. Hyacinth Evans

mmurray's picture

Professor Evans has raised some interesting points. In order to bring about dramatic changes in boys' performance there needs to be significant changes in how teachers perceive their role in teaching. Professional development programmes must be sustained and focused if we are going to realize system wide change. The licensing of teachers through the establishment of the Jamaica Teaching Council is a step towards achieving this goal. It is hoped that with the increased knowledge and skills over-time there will be a change in attitude and outlook.   Leadership is also another critical at the school level. Transformational leadership is vital to ensure that there is a stimulating learning environment for our children.  The "Change from Within" project spearheaded by the late, Sir Philip Sherlock identified that effective leadership was essential to support positive student outcomes. A study conducted by USAID in 2005 also supported this view. The study which was conducted in a number of Jamaican schools observed that two critical factors which contributed to the success of  principals and teachers were their vision and sense of mission. It was noted that collaboration among principals and teachers to create a challenging and supportive learning environment supported by clear, fair and consistently applied rules, as well as the practice of including all stakeholders i.e. students, educators and parents in the decision making process and holding each one accountable for doing his/her part consistently resulted in better outcomes.  Research has also shown that schools which create an environment characterized by respect, tolerance and high expectations usually experience positive outcomes. Our teachers need to adopt a pro-active approach in the classroom. They need to create an environment which is positive, non-confrontational and one which conveys high expectations and a sense of challenge.  It is about promoting a positive culture and teaching our boys with love. Merris Murray  To: Subject: RE: Resocializing our BoysDate: Thu, 14 Apr 2011 11:38:54 -0400From: 

Dotlyn_Minnott's picture

A number of important issues have beenraised in relation to the topic being discussed.  Many solutions have beenmentioned, including conducting more workshops. Based on educational research,workshops are not very effective in bringing about change.   Research (interviews) conducted on the professionaldevelopment of teachers in Jamaica found that teachers who had a passion forthe subject they teach, were very concerned about their students’ welfareand success, experimented to find the best strategies to teach theirsubjects/topics to address the needs of different learners (boys and girls),created a caring classroom environment and made themselves available to assist theirstudents were effective in teaching both boys and girls. These teachers receivedsupport from school leaders and parents. Such teachers could assist in induction,mentorship/coaching programmes in their schools to help new teachers and othersin developing these skills and attitudes.  These forms of professional developmentare usually more effective if the necessary systems are put in place to supportthe teachers in their work.  

delrose's picture

That evidence do you have support your stance on the effectivenes of workshops? Workshops do play a significant role in teacher development. Coupled with other stategies it can be a powerful tool. What may not work in one culture will work in another.

Novelette McLean Francis's picture
Novelette McLea...

Undoubtedly, the performance of our boys is affected by both social issues and those related to the type and quality of instruction. The social concerns including our male role models and parenting models are real, deep-seated problems which require almost a national effort in order to effect meaningful change. While not wanting to appear pessimistic, our social picture is not looking good. A change in this area requires more than lip service, more than a dancehall artiste addressing a group. Boys, like girls, are living what they see and not so much what we tell them. The drugs, the hype and the quick money are what they live through every day. The work of the teacher therefore becomes a definite challenge in competing with the psychological impact of all the young boy sees around him. But the school must still try.The school must try must harder in this time to motivate, indoctrinate and model positive behaviours as much as we can. Our boys must believe us and trust us even in our little part of the big pie of society. I have always believed and still believe that the solution to much of our teaching problems as it relates to boys is not special strategies for boys but rather a balanced instructional programme for both boys and girls. If we include materials, content, strategies and techniques which cater to our different learners, our boys will not be left behind. The solution is meaningful planning and execution. Boys need to learn about issues that appeal to girls and the reverse holds true for girls. The research says boys need to be active learners but there are many girls who by virtue of their intelligence are also active learners. We do not want our boys to be one-winged birds; let us give them the balance. Novelette McLean Francis

Kenneth 's picture

 A few quick thoughts on this most timely and important issue. Boys are our “canaries in the mine”, our early warning system for lager systemic problems.  They are failing quicker but that does not mean that it is an issue with them only; it is about the system in which we put them. While less adversely affected, girls are also under-achieving and so the system does not help boys or girls to reach their full potential.  Hence, nothing short of a complete overall of our approach to education from how we train teachers to the learning materials and curricula, from assessments to how we use assessment data teach teaching…and it goes beyond school.  Some issues to ponder1.      Brain research suggests conclusively that girls 'mature' faster than boys.  Consider this: some portions of the brain which support language and writing mature as much as four years earlier in girls than boys (Nichols 2009).  Do we then teach and test all children the same way and test them at the same age? Consider the 12 year old boys for example should he do the same GSAT that the 12 year old girl does?  2.      Boys and girls respond differently to within school factors including classroom environment, teaching, and teachers that contribute to school effectiveness. How boys ‘hear’ female teachers and the way teachers talk with and discipline boys and girls is also very different.  Part of it socio-cultural but it is mostly really bad teaching (and parenting).    3.      While cognitive ability might be the same among boys and girls, boys’  lower grades, more ‘disciplinary problems’, higher likelihood of retention in a grade and placement  in special education, report lower enjoyment and achievement and believe their teachers are less likely to encourage them (Kleinfeld 1998 in  Jacob 2001).  Boys are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and dyslexia more frequently (Nichols, 2009) – these may contribute to what are perceived as behavioural.  No surprise therefore that Boys are more likely to dropout, repeat grades etc etc etc.   What can we do differently?i.                    Assessment of boys needs to be different and attention given to their developmental stage.  This should inform how they are taught.ii.                  Get them reading early, especially those who are poor.  Poor boys who do not read by grade three are unlikely to finish high school.iii.                There is need to better understand, and treat accordingly, chronic learning disorders and separate them from behavioural problems.  While related, it is important to address the root cause.  iv.                 There are also a lot of psychosocial issues that we do not give enough attention.  For eg. counseling for children traumatized by violence – experienced directly or just living in communities where gunshots are the norm.  Some are unwilling participants in gangs, others are abused at home and in their communities. While these affect all children, boys are less likely to seek help (because of their socialization) and so we have to have a system that seeks to help them.v.                  Teaching practices, teachers, teaching material.  Gender-sensitive and child-centered teaching is critical to the experience of all students and among the most significant factors in student outcomes.  Ongoing professional development of teachers and varied opportunities for them to experience and reflect on effective practices is critical.  As importantly, let the children see themselves reflected positively in the material used. Make the learning process an experience – interactive, engaging…unforgettable. And guess what, this works for girls                Increase the presence of male role models in school environments.  If we cannot have them as teachers, principals and other school personnel, they may be brought in from the community.  However, let us go beyond one off talks and workshops to deep engagement of community members as positive role models.  Let us encourage male mentorship of students (including girls).vii.              Mandatory participation in co-curricular activities that include significant attention to the development of the total child is one way to ensure every child has the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with an adult.viii.            Student motivation is a big deal.  There is motivation to go to school, to get educated and then there is motivation to learn.  Some of this has to do with socialization but the research shows that simple things such as teacher expectation and school ethos all play into how students feel about education.  Some of this can be addressed through some of the suggestions from above. ix.    Better school environments physically and psychologically: more child-friendly schools, more discipline, less focus on punishment. There are lots of other ideas that have been tried and some discussed in this forum – single sex schools, single classes, use of technology etc.  We need to experiment and rigorously research to better understand what combination of things work.  At the end of the day, what will really matter is changing the system to facilitate the development of all our children.   

Janet_Brown's picture

I've read the posts on this subject with interest.  I agree with all who speak to the complexity and deep-seated roots to this issue, and the reminders that this is not just a Jamaican phenomenon.  However, it is OUR reality, and we need to address it.While there are many factors to boy's under-achievement, I want to speak briefly to the point made by Dr. Clarke and others--that not only pedagogy is important but EXPECTATIONS.  I have done the following exercise many times in different groups with similar results, but the one that is the starkest illustration in my mind was with a group of Masters' degree students in early childhood education; virtually all the women (no men) in the group of over 20 came from years in the classroom shaping young minds.   I asked as a warm up for participants to give me one word "off the top of their heads" which they associated with Jamaican girl child, Jamaican boy child, Jamaican mother, Jamaican father, and a couple of other associations. Of the 25 words associated with boy child 17 were negative (troublesome, challenging, rude, etc.); of the  24 responses to girl child, 22 were positive (sweet, loving, more focused, etc.) and the other 2 more neutral than negative.  It was of course no wonder, then, that most of the descriptors for mother and father fitted our cultural stereotypes of the mythically strong, loving and sacrificing mother and the absent and worthless father.   I cannot say whether these seasoned and well-educated teachers ACT on these expectations or simply were reflecting what are strong cultural associations.  But, these still are how they see very young boys and girls "off the top of their heads".   Children generally live up (or down) to what others expect of them.  We have a lot of re-socialising to do!Janet BrownParenting Partners Caribbean


"Beauty for ashes"---

cspence's picture

“What are the roles of parents and parent organizations in promoting the role of the educated male in society? There are some parents who still think that girls should, ‘’study their books’’ and boys may, “go to play”Claire Spence

Dr. Christopher Clarke's picture
Dr. Christopher...

Over the last three days we tried to unpack the issue of boys' underachievement. In the process it was generally agreed that while the phenomenon is not unique to Jamaica it is here in Jamaica that we have to make a start. Professor Evans pointed out what should have been said at the beginning: not all boys are underachieving and not all girls are doing well in school. Several factors were identified as contributing to the underachievement: gender identity, teacher expectations, parenting practices, teaching practices, socio-economic status etc. The discussants were nearly all agreed that it is these factors and less the sex of the teacher that influence performance.Today's post were intense and presented much food for thought. Resocialising our boys requires working on all fronts simultaneously. The home, school, church, popular culture will have to agree on the typology of manliness we want to see in our boys and young men. As early as age five boys establish their gender identities. They learn then what the society expects of them as men. Early childhood education therefore has a role to play in the resocialising that is necessary.The late Barry Chevannes (Learning to be a Man) reminded us that what we sow we reap. He was making reference to the results of our socialisation of boys. We would do well to heed his warning.Let the dialogue continue.Thanks to all who posted for their contibutions and to those who only had time to read, thank you just the same.