Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Swimming against the Tide: Boys, Literacies, and Schooling-An Australian Story

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Swimming against the Tide: Boys, Literacies, and Schooling-An Australian Story

Article excerpt

This article focuses on issues related to boys, literacies, and schooling as played out in the Australian context. It reflects on the swathe of populist discourse centring on boys, and on literacy, that drives a potentially divisive education agenda. In providing more nuanced analyses of the debates surrounding the disputed territory of boys, literacies, and schooling, the article offers examples of disaggregated literacy test data to demonstrate the importance of adopting a "which boys" and "which girls" approach to the issues. The article also provides brief coverage of the Success for Boys program, introduced in Australia in 2006, that encourages teachers to swim against the tide of populism by embracing the agenda in all of its complexity.

Key words: gender, literacy achievement, schooling

Cet article porte sur des questions reliees aux garcons, aux litteraties eta l'ecole dans un contexte australien. L'auteure etudie les multiples discours populistes sur les garcons et la litteratie susceptibles d'entrainer une approche fractionnelle en education. Tout en fournissant une analyse nuancee des debats entourant le territoire conteste des garcons, les litteraties et l'ecole, l'article fournit des exemples de donnees de tests de litteratie non regroupees qui demontrent l'importance de distinguer de << quels garcons >> et de << quelles filles >> il s'agit. En outre, l'article presente brievement un programme lance en 2006, Success for Boys, qui incite les enseignants a nager a contre-courant du populisme en adoptant un point de vue qui tient compte de toute la complexite de l'education.

Mots cles : genre, rendement en litteratie, education


In Australia, as in other countries--New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance--the educational gaze over the past decade has turned towards boys. At a national level, serious concerns have been expressed, and generous federal funds have been invested in improving learning outcomes for boys in Australian schools, a case that has been mirrored nationally elsewhere (Educational Review Office [ERO], 1999; ERO, 2000; Ofice for Standards in Education [Ofsted]/ERO, 1996; Ofsted, 2003a; Ofsted 2003b; Younger & Warrington, 2005). In focusing on the Australian context, this article documents some of the concerns about boys, literacies, and schooling that have plagued the media, worried parents, disturbed the wider community, spurred politicians into action, and generated a wave of research and consultancy activity across the country. On such a tide are we now afloat.

This article begins by exploring the perceived importance of a boys' agenda in Australia as instantiated in disturbing public discourse about boys, and about literacy, and in the political uptake of the issues. In investigating data commonly used to support claims that boys are in trouble, and that boys are failing at school, the article questions the legitimacy of public and political concerns and suggests that some of the momentum for a boys' agenda has been wrongheaded, first and foremost, because it has been based on too simple data analyses. When data are disaggregated, taking into account the interplay of other critical factors besides gender, the picture is shown to be more complex, more problematic, than one that rolls all boys together and essentialises them as a group. Although the exercise of disaggregating data supports the call for more nuanced responses to the issues, the article challenges the legitimacy of some passionately held, but largely unsubstantiated, explanations as to why some boys under-achieve at school, and in literacy classes in particular. The article concludes with a recount of one attempt to stem the flow of populist ideas in schools through the introduction of a research-informed, Success for Boys professional learning program that encourages teachers to grapple with the complexity of the issues and to swim vigorously against the tide of populism so readily captured in an over-simplified boys versus girls agenda. …

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