Schooling the Boys: Masculinities and Primary Education

Article excerpt

Christine Skelton Buckingham: Open University Press, 2001, 203 pp., $49.95 (paperback).

In recent years it has become commonplace for reviewers and commentators to remark on the burgeoning literature dealing with masculinities. A body of work researching and theorizing contemporary masculinities in its myriad manifestations and settings has been established across several disciplines over the past decade or so. Schools have proved an important and fruitful locale for research into masculinities (and gender more broadly). In the latest edition of the series, `Educating Boys, Learning Gender' (edited by Debbie Epstein and Mairtin Mac an Ghaill), Christine Skelton addresses the comparatively new area of masculinities and primary education.

Epstein and Mac an Ghaill have attempted to bring together `a wide range of contemporary theorizing' and research, to engage with the growing and very public discourse concerned with boys and schooling. The aim of this welcome contribution to the debate about boys and schools is to begin to bridge the gap between researchers and teachers by providing tangible support for teachers and other practitioners by focusing on `the changing demands of teaching boys and girls'.

Skelton's book is a part of new research that goes some distance to redress the hitherto skewed focus upon boys in secondary schools. Skelton's most valuable contribution to the discourse on boys in education, which regularly resembles a moral panic, is a much-needed dose of historical and social context. It is this effort to place the `boys' underachievement' discourse in historical, theoretical and social context that dominates the first half of the book.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the history and literature of boys and schooling, and begins by tracing the gender and class dimensions of British education since mass state schooling began in 1870. This is followed by a discussion of the major theoretical shifts in sociological research of schools and schooling. The final section of this chapter deals with `boys' underachievement' and identifies two dominant discourses in the literature of boys and schooling: that which focuses upon boys' underachievement; and that which critically responds to `current constructions of and approaches to "failing boys"' (p. 57).

Chapter 2 outlines the main theoretical approaches to masculinity, which in turn inform strategies used to address boys' scholastic underachievement. Skelton again highlights the difference between what she calls the `boys' underachievement' literature and the contemporary research of masculinities and schooling. This chapter draws the reader's attention to differing conceptualizations of gender (masculinity), and the importance of being aware of theoretical perspectives of gender--and their implications--in the implementation of classroom strategies.

The following chapter is used to explicate the methodology and theoretical framework for the research presented in the next section. Skelton draws upon feminist and post-structuralist approaches, emphasized when she insists that her positions and positionings as researcher (woman, part-time teacher, adult and so on) affect the knowledge/findings she can produce. …