Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Teaching for Gender Justice

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Teaching for Gender Justice

Article excerpt

Since the mid 1990s 'boys' as an equity concern have come to dominate the gender and education agenda in many countries. This has been particularly the case in Australia where substantial funding has been invested in research to investigate boys' issues, into a federal parliamentary inquiry into boys' education and into schools that have a particular focus on improving boys' education. The discourses that work to construct boys as an equity concern have had differing impacts upon teachers' philosophies and practices in relation to boys' education. In this paper we locate two teacher stories within the context of broader gender equity discourses in Australia. Against a backdrop that attempts to articulate the primary concerns of two secondary teachers in relation to effectively teaching boys, the stories explore implications for gender justice that can be associated with, on the one hand, an affirmative approach, and on the other, a transformative approach to issues of boys and schooling.

Introduction

Since the mid 1990s gender equity and schooling agendas, particularly in contexts such as Australia and the United Kingdom, have seen a remarkable shift from a predominant concern with social justice to a focus on raising boys' achievement (Francis & Skelton, 2005). This 'boy turn' (Weaver-Hightower, 2003) has in the most part been driven, not by issues of genuine educational in/equity, but by cultures of performativity and anti-feminism (see Francis & Skelton, 2005; Lingard, 2003). Through these lenses, the amplified concern about boys' educational performance has been manufactured by market-driven schooling contexts where forces of efficiency and economy have narrowly defined success and achievement. Here an obsession with academic outcomes works to rearticulate equity to reflect the measurement of specific and easily quantifiable aspects of education such as those associated with literacy (Lingard, 2003; Mahony, 1998; Taylor & Henry, 2000). Taylor and Henry (2000, p. 6), for example, argue that the marketisation of schooling in Australia has constituted literacy as a 'surrogate for other forms of educational inequality'.

Broadly, of course, many commentators position the ascendant marketisation of schooling as highly regressive for social equity (Connell, 2002; Gillborn & Youdell, 2000; Taylor & Henry, 2000). When fuelled by backlash discourses against feminist gains in education, however, this climate can be seen as particularly regressive for gender equity. Certainly, it has provided fertile ground for legitimising a focus on boys: for example, boys' underperformance in literacy is commonly used to justify the enduring moral panic surrounding boys and schooling achievement. This underperformance, however, is far from a new phenomenon (Francis & Skelton, 2005; Hayes, 2003) and is hardly an equity issue for boys given that it seldom translates into disadvantage beyond school (Collins, Kenway & McLeod, 2000). Nevertheless, along these lines, selective and reductionist accounts of gender and crude indicators of success and failure in areas like literacy, school retention and rates of suspension and expulsion (areas that boys have always underperformed in, see Hayes, 2003; Smith, 2003; Yates, 1997), continue to be used effectively to make a case for a focus on boys as the 'new disadvantaged'.

Indeed, reductionist accounts of gender in these areas continue to provide the impetus for many large-scale and generously funded initiatives designed to improve boys' educational outcomes. In Australia, for example, the federal government has recently allocated 19.4 million (Australian) dollars to the Success for Boys initiative (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2005). This initiative follows on from the seven million dollar Boys' Education Lighthouse Schools programs and focuses particularly on supporting disadvantaged and 'at-risk' boys (defined as those at risk of disengaging from school). …

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