Investigating Gender: Contemporary Perspectives in Education

By Becky Francis; Christine Skelton | Go to book overview

12
Typical boys? Theorizing
masculinity in
educational settings

Christine Skelton


Introduction

From the middle of the 1990s headlines began to appear in national newspapers in the UK claiming that schools were letting boys down. For example, 'The failing sex' (Guardian12.3.96.); 'Where did we go wrong?' (Times Educational Supplement14.2.97.); 'Classroom rescue for Britain's lost boys' (Independent 5.1.98.). The government have also expressed concern about boys' attitudes towards schooling and their performance in assessment tests (Woodhead 1996; Blunkett 2000). Boys are portrayed as being poorly motivated towards school work and underperforming generally in relation to girls, but particularly in terms of literacy skills, with this disaffection leading to truancy and exclusion. A consequence of government and media concern about Britain's 'failing boys' is a proliferation of articles, books and reports exploring the 'gender problem' of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries - boys' underachievement. However, reading through much of this literature it is possible to conclude that little has been learned from feminist understandings of gender and schooling, and similarly there is no apparent recognition of the more recent theories of masculinity and schooling.

This chapter aims to provide a context for the current high profile given to the problems of boys and education by raising questions about how concepts of 'masculinity' have been, and are, theorized in the literature. As this is a book written mainly by feminists or by writers who engage with issues raised by feminism, it seems appropriate to begin with feminists' views on investigating boys and masculinities. The chapter will then go on briefly to look at how boys were constructed in studies of schooling from the 1960s to the 1970s. The chapter then moves on to outline ways of theorizing masculinities in the latter part of the twentieth century, and how these have

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