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June 1999 MENZ Issues: Volume 4 Issue 5

Are New Zealand Schools Male-Friendly? Educators, parents and policymakers in both Australia and New Zealand are becoming increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who fail to secure an adequate education in the modern school system. In recent decades, most educational administrators have been focussing their attention on the disadvantages girls supposedly faced in schools. Today however, it is widely recognised that the majority of the students who ‘fail’ are boys.

Families Undermined by Schools "Over the years the state has taken more and more control over our lives. It has become the father and the mother of tens of thousands of New Zealanders. It has diminished our sense of responsibility and it has eroded our freedom. In the process the strength of the family has been seriously undermined. In the old days – when I was a girl – our Mums and Dads used to teach us how to keep safe. Now not only do we now let the schools do it and the police and the Department of Social Welfare and ACC but there is a whole government department dedicated to our safety – Occupational Safety and Health.

Education Review Office Investigates Under-performance of Boys The ERO are investigating why boys are falling so badly behind in schools. The report will be released in the next few weeks. Last year, girls topped every bursary subject, including science. 70% of the reading recovery classes at 6 years are boys. Graeme Macann, president of the NZ Post Primary Teachers Assn. claimed the school system has traditionally "been better for boys….who have had it easy as a group". He said the curriculum has previously "favoured boys", especially in subjects like history which was all about male leaders. Also in English, most of the literature studied was by men.Nowadays Macann claimed, educators are "aware of gender balance", and these subjects include much more material by and about women. He made no suggestion that perhaps this is part of the problem.

The Gender Gap The cover article in the New Zealand Listener was called ‘The Gender Gap: why girls are doing better at school’ by Assistant Editor Pamela Stirling. Studies and statistics are given which show, and nobody now disputes this, that boys are doing worse than girls in almost all areas of school, from academic performance, to suspensions and expulsions, early leaving, and undue representation in slow learner and remedial classes. Unfortunately, too much of the article is an opportunity for a display of sexist comments, all too common from most of New Zealand ‘s media and especially from people involved in education. For example, Megan Clarke from Victoria University is not even subtle in her answer to the question – does it matter if girls generally outperform boys? "Personally, I think it’s great," she crows.

School Psychologist Traumatised by Abuse Stories A school psychologist "working with victims of abuse", became so mentally disturbed that she couldn’t let her own children play outside their yard. She began to believe they were unsafe with all other adults – even her own husband. One shudders to contemplate the kind of ‘therapy’ this woman was delivering to her alleged ‘victims’.

The Three Rs A Rodney Times editorial applauded the recent $3million Ministry of Education campaign to interest the community in literacy and numeracy skills of young children. Last year, the editor criticised school principals for stonewalling a Government proposal to test the reading, writing and arithmetic skills of primary pupils. This prompted an immediate outcry from headmasters, the national principals federation and the NZ Educational Institute. One critic suggested that insistence on the three ‘R’s was living in the past, and that schools were about ‘preparing children for the future’.

Asian Schools Doing Better? In a NZ Herald dialogue article on 4th Aug 1998, teacher, lecturer, and school principal Frank Dodd defended modern teaching methods in response to criticism. Professor Neville Bennett had claimed Asian schools, which concentrate on formal class instruction in basic facts, are producing better-educated students. He had also said that schools were neglecting critical thinking in favour of creativity.

Gender Differences in Educational Achievement Professor David Fergusson’s Christchurch Health and Development study of over 1,000 children found that throughout the school career of this cohort males achieved consistently less well than females. As the boys and girls had similar IQ scores, Fergusson concluded that the difference is not explained by lack of intelligence. What he did find was that the higher rate of educational under-achievement in males was adequately explained by gender related differences in classroom behaviour. The boys were significantly more prone to being disruptive and inattentive.

Boys: Masculinities & Learnings Over in Australia this month, the Townsville and District Education Centre is running a ‘Boys: Masculinities & Learnings Conference.’ The organisers say: "Dominant gender stereotypes are socially and culturally constructed and can be effectively deconstructed and reconstructed to challenge under-performance, the use of violence and aggressive behaviour." This is shorthand for a feminist approach. For many parents, the politically correct liberal feminist values held by many school teachers in the late 20th century are diametrically opposed to the traditional values they hope to install in their children.

Working with Boys – Building Fine Men At the beginning of July, the University of Newcastle’s Men and Boys Programme is also sponsoring a conference on educating boys. The organisers note the fact that media attention has recently been drawn to the important role of fathers in the raising of sons. They suggest that "while a recognition of fathers’ roles is welcomed, the inference that boys’ development is entirely the responsibility of their biological father is fanciful."

Alternative School for Shore Dropouts Planning has begun for a special school for students who are expelled from existing schools.

New Books for Boys In a bid to capture male attention, the chapters are short and the action fast-paced. In ‘Runaway’, a boy goes looking for his father who walked out on him 10 years earlier.

Right From the Start The March 1999 publication of the Early Childhood Development organisation ‘Right From the Start’, discusses their new programme ‘He Taonga Te Mokopuna (The Child is a Treasure)’. They say it is designed to ‘help’ children affected by domestic violence. However, the underlying assumptions are not supported by the facts. Large numbers of children develop very effective coping strategies, and grow into fine, healthy adults despite the most appalling childhoods. Post-traumatic stress disorder, despite its aura of scientific precision, is a wide ranging diagnosis based on a fairly loose cluster of symptoms. Common sense tells us that abused children are much more likely to suffer adult dysfunction, but as yet there is no way to prove any causal link between contemporary psychological symptoms and a specific past trauma.

Budget: $1.3 million to Eliminate Bullies Minister of Education Nick Smith recently announced that the May 20 Budget would include $1.3 million for the Specialist Education Services ‘Eliminating Violence Programme’. He said that bullying had been part of school life for generations "but cannot be tolerated". Is this yet another wildly exaggerated problem with an unattainable goal designed to secure continued funding for ‘re-educating’ males?

Letter from Music Teacher Teaching a musical instrument is often very much a hands-on activity, particularly in the early phases. Some alleged sexual assaults have occurred with more than one adult present. A video monitor seems the only practical solution.

Reply From Board Your request for purchase of a video surveillance monitor was carefully considered by the board; however not only does the College not have the money available for this purchase, (being an unbudgeted expense) but it was believed even this would not ensure allegations of improper behaviour could be avoided.

Support Group for Male Teachers Auckland teacher Garth Houltham, of Fairburn Primary school, has set up a support network for male teachers. His initiative followed the widely publicised case last year in which Hamilton teacher John Edgar was acquitted of indecency charges after being falsely accused of sexual abuse by seven boys.

Cases Against Teachers Increase According to the 14th May Education Review, the total number of competency and disciplinary cases initiated against teachers and principals in 1998 increased to 593.

Falsely Accused Teachers COSA has had a number of falsely accused teachers contact us in recent years. While certainly some teachers do sexually molest children, it is all too easy for pupils to make wrongful allegations and be uncritically believed. Pointing the finger at a teacher gives students incredible power if they are angry with him (or her) and want revenge for being disciplined or slighted in some way. The case of acquitted ex-teacher Dr John Edgar, demonstrated this well. Police chose to believe the boys rather than Edgar and other witnesses including fellow teachers. By all accounts, Edgar was an excellent teacher, and his loss from the profession depleted the already tiny pool of men prepared to teach in the 1990s.

Boys In Schools – One Day Conference The groundswell of opinion is running very high that things desperately need to change. Man Alive asks you to attend and take an active part in this important conference, and become part of a cooperative nexus willing to make a difference – ultimately for everybody.

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Cartoons in this issue are examples of negative images of men in school publications. From "Keeping Ourselves Safe" by Learning Media for NZ Police. They are not out of context – there were no positive images to provide balance (and women were exclusively portrayed as victims.)

Are New Zealand Schools Male-Friendly?

Educators, parents and policymakers in both Australia and New Zealand are becoming increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who fail to secure an adequate education in the modern school system. In recent decades, most educational administrators have been focussing their attention on the disadvantages girls supposedly faced in schools. As late as 1988, the NZ Council for Educational Research reported to the Royal Commission on Social Policy that "the research shows clearly that the NZ education system does not offer the majority of girls a fair chance to develop their abilities".

Today however, it is widely recognised that the majority of the students who ‘fail’ are boys.

As yet, no-one seems to be facing up to the fact that the current situation is the inevitable result of successful ‘affirmative action’ policies designed to advantage girls.

Many parents worry about the rapid increase in programmes which appear to have social engineering objectives. The most obvious cause for complaint is in the area of sex education, but many parents have similar concerns about courses designed to address abuse prevention, self defence, bullying, self esteem, and other value-laden subjects. In addition to the moral and cultural objections some parents may have to these new developments on the education scene, there is also the increasing concern that resources and priorities are being directed away from teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In the modern world, competence in these areas is more important than ever before.

Of even greater concern to Men’s Centre North Shore, it seems that many boys these days find the school system overtly hostile to males, and they wrongly conclude that education and literacy are primarily female concerns. This is reinforced by the exodus of male teachers (many who also complain that the system treats men badly) from the education profession. At the Wellington Father’s Family & the Future social policy forum, one presenter from a solo mother headed home said it was not until he turned nine that he first had a chance to develop a relationship with an adult male teacher.

This month we look at a number of issues associated with the education of boys. Given the concern expressed in the past about providing a ‘safe’ and supportive school environment for girls, homosexuals and ethnic minorities, Men’s Centre North Shore thinks it is time to consider how the current school system is experienced by ordinary boys.

On the final page are details of a 9th July one-day conference in Waitakere City on ‘Boys in Schools’ presented by Man Alive.

John Potter

Families Undermined by Schools

On Friday 27th Nov 1998, ACT MP Dr Muriel Newman made the following comments in a speech to a group of parents concerned about NZ schools. She accurately reflects the concerns of many of our members.

"Over the years the state has taken more and more control over our lives. It has become the father and the mother of tens of thousands of New Zealanders. It has diminished our sense of responsibility and it has eroded our freedom.

In the process the strength of the family has been seriously undermined. In the old days – when I was a girl – our Mums and Dads used to teach us how to keep safe. Now not only do we now let the schools do it and the police and the Department of Social Welfare and ACC but there is a whole government department dedicated to our safety – Occupational Safety and Health.

In the old days our Mums and Dads had the right to know what was going on in our lives. They had eyes in the back of their head and they knew that we would hide our diary under the mattress. Today the Privacy Act lets children tell their parents to push off and they are taught their right to privacy at school.

In the old days the behaviours we learned were based on the value systems of our mums and dads. Today the schools teach us about values from a very young age.

In the old days the sexual mores we developed were those of our family. Today they are the mores of our nation’s new sex advisers, the schools. Our power as parents is being eroded on a daily basis, but it is so gradual that most people are not aware that it is happening.

It scares the hell out of me that most parents do not realise our school system is run by a union that is stronger than the watersiders, that liberal, socialist philosophies have pervaded the curriculum. As parents we don’t really know what is being taught because industrial relations issues have dominated the education debate.

I would like to pay tribute to all of you who feel so concerned about what’s happening to our families and what’s happening to our children that you have come along today.

We know that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of youth suicide and teenage pregnancy in the world and that more children now live in sole parent families than two parent families.

[Dr Newman is incorrect, it’s about a quarter overall, but over 40% in some Maori communities. JP]

We sense that some of the problems are due to legislation and that is the issue that I wrestle with. I would particularly like to thank the parents who spoke out when they discovered the school had arranged for their daughter to receive the morning-after pill. It takes courage to speak out and it takes courage to make change.

So once again I would like to thank you all for coming and I would like to share with you a piece of old wisdom: Evil things happen when good people do nothing".

Dr Muriel Newman

Education Review Office Investigates Under-performance of Boys

Alerted by a member’s phone call, I watched an interview with Graeme Macann, president of the NZ Post Primary Teachers Assn. on breakfast TV 24th Feb 1999. The ERO are investigating why boys are falling so badly behind in schools. The report will be released in the next few weeks.

Last year, girls topped every bursary subject, including science. 70% of the reading recovery classes at 6 years are boys.

Macann claimed the school system has traditionally "been better for boys….who have had it easy as a group". He said the curriculum has previously "favoured boys", especially in subjects like history which was all about male leaders. Also in English, most of the literature studied was by men.

Nowadays Macann claimed, educators are "aware of gender balance", and these subjects include much more material by and about women.

He made no suggestion that perhaps this is part of the problem. He also didn’t mention the preponderance of female teachers. I talked to a teacher recently who relieved at a school that employs 50 staff – only two are men.

Asked if boys-only schools were the answer, Macann replied that boys are already being put in separate classes in some schools because of unacceptable behaviour.

Macann said the cause of boys failure is partly socio-economic, which disadvantages girls as well. He said that boys from stable, middle-class families can still succeed.

He seemed to think the rest was mainly the fault of fathers, who are not home enough, and don’t read to their children. He said boys need to read more. The ERO is aware that there is a shortage of reading material suitable for and attractive to boys.

The May 14th Education Review reports that the British Pre-School Learning Alliance is warning many children may not be developmentally ready for reading until six or seven years old. They are concerned that large numbers of children being sent to ‘reading recovery’ may be getting the inappropriate message early on in their school careers that they are failures, putting them off for life.

J.P.

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The Gender Gap

The cover article in the 12th January 1998 New Zealand Listener is called ‘The Gender Gap: why girls are doing better at school’ by Assistant Editor Pamela Stirling. Studies and statistics are given which show, and nobody now disputes this, that boys are doing worse than girls in almost all areas of school, from academic performance, to suspensions and expulsions, early leaving, and undue representation in slow learner and remedial classes.

Unfortunately, too much of the article is an opportunity for a display of sexist comments, all too common from most of New Zealand ‘s media and especially from people involved in education. For example, Megan Clarke from Victoria University is not even subtle in her answer to the question – does it matter if girls generally outperform boys?

"Personally, I think it’s great," she crows.

And researcher Marilyn Stephens is quoted as being concerned against any move to say "poor boys are being outperformed by girls; we must put more resources into boys". She puts the poor performance down to boys "macho masculinity".

Bronwyn Cross from the PPTA also minimises the size of the gap and feels that a major reason is that boys are lazy.

Another researcher, Jean Ruddock, thinks the important issue is boys "poor organisational skills and that they lack an understanding of hard work."

Well, ladies, thanks a lot! These are precisely the type of bleeding-hearted liberals who have been at pains for years to tell us that we should never "blame the victim", especially when that person was female or a member of a coloured minority.

But it looks like that boys, being male, are fair targets for the blame game. And aren’t all the comments above just a little more than, wait for it, "JUDGEMENTAL"? Being "judgemental" of course, is the cardinal sin of the politically correct and here they are, sinning away with gay abandon.

So, yes, I found this article both blaming and judgemental, as well as, and here’s another phrase so loved in PC circles, full of "SEXIST STEREOTYPES".

But all is not gloom and doom. There were some sensible attempts to understand the issues and Roy Nash from Massey University and Christ’s College Headmaster Robert Zordan made some excellent points. Nash finds part of the problem lies in the way some courses are assessed. Where there is continuous assessment, the girls do their work and complete the assignments. As he says

"If you fall behind, it ‘s terribly difficult to catch up, which means the girls end the year with better grades. It ‘s also true that the curriculum has become just a little more friendly towards girls -fractionally less abstract".

Funny that he should say that. At the NZ United Women’s Convention of 1975, for which Judith Aitken was the overall secretary, Workshop #12, entitled ‘Women as Teachers’, convened by Charmaine Poutney and Karen Sewell, produced the following recommendation:

"…that, because those things that are most important in learning cannot be measured by marks and grades which encourage the judging of one human being against another, all teachers examine new ways of assessing and reporting which will help students understand themselves and their progress"

These women, you will appreciate, have subsequently achieved great influence in our education system, with Aitken currently Head of The Education Review Office.

This marked the start of a transition away from what were regarded as hierarchical, competitive, masculine ways of learning, and towards experiential learning which emphasised skills-based learning and minimised knowledge acquisition. Girls were thought to be more suited to the new approach. Time has indeed confirmed that, and in addition I believe, has shown that boys are doing less well than under the older system. As the quote from that early feminist meeting indicates, it was no accident that boys ended up disadvantaged and girls advantaged.

Nash makes the further point that schools can be very unfriendly places for many boys especially those that misbehave and they are not at all well coped with by the system. We could debate all day whether the abolition of corporal punishment in schools was in fact a retrogressive step for boys. The cane probably helped them know where they stood and enabled them to get on with their work without further trouble. I would go further and say that schools are very unfriendly places to all boys, with the assault on masculinity and maleness that is now going on.

To take an example, I find the "Keeping Ourselves Safe " programme, recently updated, to be extremely sexist against boys and men, and to be full of harmful stereotypes. Much of what passes for sex education in schools is female-centred, with "female as victim " and "male as perpetrator " the stereotypical norm.

Sexual harassment is likewise portrayed as there being something wrong with boys. Only boys are being expected to take responsibility for their behaviour. Bullying programmes also have this predominant gender bias against boys. And people still wonder why males in the 15 to 24 age range are suiciding 6 to 1 compared with girls. "Wondering" is all these people are doing.

No research I have seen in this country has had the guts to really get to grips with this appalling statistic. Mere ‘comment’ on the difference is seen as sufficient.

Instead of blaming boys for their poor performance, perhaps we should start looking at the effect on boys of homes without fathers, of boys seeing their fathers treated as second class citizens by the Family Courts up and down the length of this country, of reversing the gender imbalance of teachers in both primary and secondary schools, which each year sees fewer and fewer men in the classroom and more and more women.

The typical reaction to poor performance by females and minority groups has been affirmative action programmes and massive infusions of funding and resources. Never has it been suggested that the fault lay within the group, whether their attitudes or behaviour. So why are we so keen to look within boys and fault them so?

Let’s instead look at how we can tailor the system to suit what boys are, not tailor the boys to the system. And if we must put extra resources into the group that are doing badly, let’s do it for boys and girls equally who are at the bottom academically, on a child by child basis. That’s Professor David Fergusson’s suggestion after he had exhaustively studied the performance of over 1,000 boys and girls for the first 21 years of their lives. And that will get around the divisive ideological gender wars that too many of the politically correct in our schools, colleges of education and universities are waging.

Mark Rowley

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School Psychologist Traumatised by Abuse Stories

The NZ Doctor 14th Oct 1998 had an article by psychologist Marijke Batenburg titled ‘Beware the effect of vicarious trauma’. The article discussed how exposure to clients who have suffered from traumatic events such as murder, rape, vehicle accidents, fire or natural disaster can lead to stress symptoms in social workers, counsellors, and other helpers.

Disturbingly, she cites the case of a school psychologist "working with victims of abuse", who became so mentally disturbed that she couldn’t let her own children play outside their yard. She began to believe they were unsafe with all other adults – even her own husband. One shudders to contemplate the kind of ‘therapy’ this woman was delivering to her alleged ‘victims’.

J.P.

The Three Rs

The May 11th 1999 Rodney Times editorial applauded the recent $3million Ministry of Education campaign to interest the community in literacy and numeracy skills of young children. Last year, the editor criticised school principals for stonewalling a Government proposal to test the reading, writing and arithmetic skills of primary pupils. This prompted an immediate outcry from headmasters, the national principals federation and the NZ Educational Institute. One critic suggested that insistence on the three ‘R’s was living in the past, and that schools were about ‘preparing children for the future’.

The Times insists that "success in any sphere demands the ability to read, write and count, and even suggests that educators who fail to support this new initiative by the Ministry "should be kicked out".

The campaign is part of the Government’s "Policies in Progress" project, which aims to improve these basic skills in children aged nine and below. According to the 29th October 1998 Albany Extra, NZ nine-year-olds perform well below the international mean for mathematics achievement. In addition to the publicity campaign, the key initiatives are:

  • re-focusing the primary school curriculum, with ERO accountability reviews,
  • setting up a Literacy Taskforce to find the most effective teaching methods and identify resources needed to help teachers,
  • allocating $10.3 million over three years to fund remedial programmes.

However, some teachers are more concerned with socio-political objectives, as Australian radical feminist Dale Spender makes clear in the 2nd April 1999 Education Review, in an article on computer use. She wrote:

"Schools…that taught ‘back to basics’ approaches to learning core skills such as reading were training students for a lifetime of unemployment".

On May 14th, Frank Sligo, Susan Fountaine and Damian O’Neill, pointed out how these kinds of pronouncements undermine teachers. The three Massey University researchers discuss the need to distinguish between ability and motivation when assessing students’ writing abilities.

They suggest that if pressed, many students may be able to produce good written work. However, if they perceive the person assessing their writing is not so interested in quality, they relax their standards.

Skills not valued or practised will fall into disrepair. They say the key question is "who cares?" The researchers have just surveyed 509 secondary school English teachers (70% of them women). They report their overall impression is that English teachers are still "attempting to hold the line on language structure and matters of strict correctness".

J.P.

Asian Schools Doing Better?

In a NZ Herald dialogue article on 4th Aug 1998, teacher, lecturer, and school principal Frank Dodd defended modern teaching methods in response to criticism.

Professor Neville Bennett had claimed Asian schools, which concentrate on formal class instruction in basic facts, are producing better-educated students. He had also said that schools were neglecting critical thinking in favour of creativity.

Dodd argued that because some Asian countries don’t have universal education, international comparisons are not valid because it tends to be the smarter Asian children at school. He also says that he has studied hundreds of video transcripts of teaching in Auckland which he found "infinitely variable, intellectually impressive and [proof that] class instruction is not extinct".

On the subject of creativity and critical thinking, Dodd points out that they are not alternatives, and that "they are best nurtured in an environment where participation and interaction are not hampered by pre-ordained outcomes and where authority is minimised and disagreement is expected." He goes on to say that both these skills depend on a good knowledge base, and particularly the skill of accessing new knowledge.

Dodd agrees with Bennett that general knowledge seems to be waning in schools, but does not think schools should shoulder the blame. He claims that in his 42 years of teaching, every bright knowledgeable child he worked with came from a propitious home environment. He says these homes are becoming hard to find, due to excessive working hours, stress and insecurity. Dodd believes those who teach children "need to work together to alleviate the worst excesses of the world we have brought them in to".

J.P.

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Gender Differences in Educational Achievement.

Professor David Fergusson’s Christchurch Health and Development study of over 1,000 children found that throughout the school career of this cohort males achieved consistently less well than females. As the boys and girls had similar IQ scores, Fergusson concluded that the difference is not explained by lack of intelligence. What he did find was that the higher rate of educational under-achievement in males was adequately explained by gender related differences in classroom behaviour. The boys were significantly more prone to being disruptive and inattentive. Male students had lower scores on all of the standardised tests, being uniformly rated as performing less well in the areas of reading, written expression, mathematics and spelling. At age 18 the boys had lower success rates in School Certificate examinations, higher rates of reading delay, and more often left school without qualifications.

In his discussion, Fergusson says "There can be little doubt on the basis of these findings that any gender bias within the contemporary NZ education system is in the direction of leading to male underachievement rather than to female educational disadvantage." He points out that "educational research over the last two decades has left the NZ education system with an intellectual legacy in which it is widely assumed that: a) girls are educationally disadvantaged, and b) it is important that classroom and school environments are structured in ways that address female disadvantage." He said that educational policymakers need to "revisit the issue of gender equity in education and to develop policy guidelines which are consistent with the classroom realities of the 1990s."

The research team has been aware of the poor performance of boys in their cohort for over a decade. Fergusson remarks: "in an intellectual climate which was dominated by strong claims that females were educationally disadvantaged it has been difficult to convince others of the discrepancy between educational theory and classroom reality".

Fergusson suggests that "classroom environments designed to produce optimal male educational success may need to pay greater attention to the regulation of disruptive and inattentive behaviour patterns". However he says this is likely to be impractical because it would require the education system to be stratified by gender, which would be both difficult and expensive to achieve. He also points out that the differences in educational achievement, while statistically significant, tend to be small, and may not justify a massive restructuring.

His conclusion is that we should abandon the use of gender as a key variable in educational policy, and to emphasise the individual factors that lead to disadvantage. This approach he says, "is likely to be far more effective in addressing what appears to be an emerging male disadvantage than the alternative of engaging in yet another round of affirmative-action policies centred around the misleading assumption that gender is a cause of educational under-achievement."

J.P.

Boys: Masculinities & Learnings

Over in Australia this month, the Townsville and District Education Centre is running a ‘Boys: Masculinities & Learnings Conference.’ In the past twelve months, two other Queensland conferences dealing with boys’ academic and social development have taken place. The aim of the conference is to provide access to speakers "who have adopted a consistent theoretical and philosophical approaches to the issues related to academic performance, behavioural problems and social development of boys."

They hope that by providing this information "those working in this area can engage in productive rather than destructive debate."

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The organisers take care to state the theoretical and professional position underpinning their approach. They point out that they support the official position taken by the Queensland education bureaucracy in defining boys’ issues.

  • In referring to boys’ issues and poor school performance we are talking about groups of boys whose under-performance reflects their disenchantment with schooling.
  • The school and cultural construction of gender is a very critical factor in influencing the attitudes, behaviour and aspirations of children and adolescents.
  • We reject any notion of competition between boys’ and girls’ interests. Solutions will necessarily involve improving the lot of both sexes through effective human relationships, understanding of cultural constructs affecting both boys and girls, and critical reflection on a personal basis.
  • Dominant gender stereotypes are socially and culturally constructed and can be effectively deconstructed and reconstructed to challenge under-performance, the use of violence and aggressive behaviour.

This is shorthand for a feminist approach. On Page 2 of this issue, Dr Muriel Newman raised the issue of whether or not schools have a mandate to ‘deconstruct and reconstruct’ our children’s cultural and social values. For many parents, the politically correct liberal feminist values held by many school teachers in the late 20th century are diametrically opposed to the traditional values they hope to install in their children.

Whether or not this all reconstructing is actually effective has yet to be addressed. It might be argued that increasing levels of violence and bullying in schools, and rising numbers of male suicides and school dropouts, indicate that efforts are having quite the opposite effect.

Although the attitudes and beliefs of American prisoners of war were certainly being successfully deconstructed by their Korean captors back in the 1950’s, it is far from clear whether the same dramatic results can be achieved by the considerably more restricted methods of brainwashing available to modern educators. The possibility that this kind of programme may have unintended side-effects, or cause adverse reactions in some vulnerable children, appears not to have been seriously considered.

The Australian conference brochure goes on to acknowledge the currently competing philosophies which underpin the extremes of this debate. They say they recognise that adherents of a genetic determinist position (boys will be boys) will plan different strategies to proponents expounding the social construction of gender (immersion in the dominant culture and a lifetime’s training determines our behaviour). The organising committee claims that it is unable to commit to either extreme. They say that while our gendered identity is predominantly influenced by the world in which we live, they do acknowledge that differences exist between boys’ and girls’ physiological and psychological rates of development. However, it is not clear to this writer that a minor concession about ‘rates of development’ is enough to justify the committee’s claim to occupy the middle ground.

J.P.

Working with Boys – Building Fine Men

At the beginning of July, the University of Newcastle’s Men and Boys Programme is also sponsoring a conference on educating boys. The organisers note the fact that media attention has recently been drawn to the important role of fathers in the raising of sons. They suggest that "while a recognition of fathers’ roles is welcomed, the inference that boys’ development is entirely the responsibility of their biological father is fanciful."

The conference brochure, illustrated with an extremely prickly cactus topped with attractive flowers, also makes the point that "indigenous communities have been clear about the importance of males in service delivery to men. At several forums they have drawn attention to the culturally insensitive assumption that professionals and human service workers are gender neutral."

Three days long, the event includes a number of presentations by academics and educators, practical workshops, and over 20 ‘theme sessions’ where small groups will discuss their particular areas of interest. In the first presentation, Richard Fletcher will address the vital question "Who is to say what fine men are like?" Later, recognising that boys are regularly identified as a problem, with assumptions commonly made about their needs interests and values, a forum describes methods and issues in seeking boys’ views.

On subsequent days, a session looks at ‘Boys in public space’, noting that boys’ use of space is often restricted (no running, skateboarding etc). The question of how we might identify and meet boys’ legitimate use of space will be addressed. They will also examine ‘Risk-Taking’. Sensibly, the question is asked "do we want males who avoid risks?" This forum will discuss how we might reduce harmful risk taking while promoting positive risk-taking. Yet another session deals with ‘Boys in Strife’, where participants will discuss ways to deter boys from criminal activity, and whether alternatives to incarceration are good for boys.

J.P.

Alternative School for Shore Dropouts

On 8th July 1998, the Shore News announced that planning had begun for a special school for students who are expelled from existing schools. Glenfield College principal Warren Seastrand told the paper the North Shore Secondary Schools Principals’ Association was discussing how to establish an alternative learning centre. He said that few North Shore schools are likely to enrol students with a history of expulsion.

North Harbour student support co-ordinator James Cunneen said that an alternative learning programme is desperately needed on the Shore. "There are a whole group of kids out there who can’t be mainstreamed." Many of them have been out of the system for over a year.

The North Harbour News May 7th 1998 reported that North Harbour principals are now working on a new school designed specifically for truants and troublesome students. Orewa College deputy principal Grant Jones, a member of the Truancy Services Committee, says the area needs a facility for children who don’t want to be at a traditional school. The collective of principals is developing the plan to support the two paid student support co-ordinators in the North Harbour region.

Jones says the plan is still in its infancy, and that location and funding details have yet to be finalised.

Headed North Shore suspension figures ‘on low side’, the 14th Oct 1998 Shore News reported that there were nearly 200 suspensions from North Shore Schools in the first half of 1998. The main reasons were continual disobedience, assaults on other students, and drug use. Ministry of Education spokesperson Gilli Sinclair said that while nationally the number of suspensions was on the rise, North Shore figures are on the low side.

On 9th March 1999 however, with the headline More Pupils Suspended, the North Shore Times Advertiser revealed that suspensions have actually risen. Ministry of Education figures showed there were 370 North Shore students suspended in 1998 compared to 313 in 1997. Sinclair was again quoted as pointing out that the numbers are "not as bad as in other parts of the country". She revealed there were more suspensions in lower socio-economic areas, among Maori, and among males, the first of the four articles to hint that this is mostly boys we are talking about here. She said that even though the suspension rate is considered "reasonably low" on the Shore, this does not mean the area will miss out on new initiatives to reduce suspensions.

J.P.

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New Books for Boys

Last year, Orewa College English teacher Tania Roxborogh published two books specifically aimed at boys. In a bid to capture male attention, the chapters are short and the action fast-paced. In ‘Runaway’, a boy goes looking for his father who walked out on him 10 years earlier.

Roxborogh says an earlier book, ‘If I Could Tell You’ dealt with sexual abuse, was criticised for being ‘too happy’. According to our local librarian it is "immensely popular", with "a long waiting list". According to the Shore News 19th Aug 1998, Roxborogh’s writing is partly autobiographical, "a strong mixture of truth and fiction", drawing partly from a childhood which was "unsettled and unhappy."

J.P.

Right From the Start

While picking my daughter up from kindergarten the other day, I spied a newsletter pinned to the notice board along with other information about education initiatives for pre-schoolers.

The March 1999 publication of the Early Childhood Development organisation ‘Right From the Start’, discusses their new programme ‘He Taonga Te Mokopuna (The Child is a Treasure)’. They say it is designed to ‘help’ children affected by domestic violence.

They do try very hard to keep the language gender-neutral, but they slip on a couple of occasions; once referring to the ‘caregiver’ as ‘she’, and in describing the first session saying:

"Often, we will need to see the mum separately because she has a lot to get off her chest. It can get very emotional, but it’s crucial for rapport building."

The article begins by claiming: "A child cannot make meaning out of what is happening, cannot control the feelings of terror or helplessness and cannot work out resources for coping. The effects last into adult life and include post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem and depression. Children are often the silent victims of domestic violence."

Now this tragic and emotive picture will certainly be true in some extreme cases, and social services need to make every effort to provide whatever support is necessary. However, the underlying assumptions are not supported by the facts. Large numbers of children develop very effective coping strategies, and grow into fine, healthy adults despite the most appalling childhoods.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, despite its aura of scientific precision, is a wide ranging diagnosis based on a fairly loose cluster of symptoms. Common sense tells us that abused children are much more likely to suffer adult dysfunction, but as yet there is no way to prove any causal link between contemporary psychological symptoms and a specific past trauma.

The article goes on to tell us:

"Recent legislative changes, and the development of programmes specifically to support children are ensuring that children get the help they need to grow up safe and strong, thereby ending the cycle of abuse."

This sounds like a fine goal, but I would like to see the research evidence that shows what the outcomes are for these children. Perhaps being officially labelled as psychologically damaged, and then being forced to undergo many hours of experimental ‘play therapy’ is even harmful to some. If the children are led to believe that domestic violence is actually a tool of the patriarchy used to keep women oppressed, the chances of them forming successful hetero-sexual relationships as adults seem slim.

The first of ten key goals of He Taonga Te Mokopuna is to "express feelings of hurt, pain, guilt and isolation." For many years now, researchers have been warning that therapy focussing on expressing negative emotions is at best ineffective, but also carries a danger that recovery will be prolonged. Lengthy treatment may be in the best interest of the ‘therapist’ but it is not necessarily so for a vulnerable ‘client’.

The 17th May 1999 Time magazine quotes psychologist Tana Dineen, author of ‘Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People’. She says "there is no research that says people benefit from trauma counselling…they may be doing damage".

The second programme goal is "Develop a sense of normality, a healthy self image, and to build self esteem."

‘Building self esteem’ is another dubious concept, the main utility of which may be its ability to attract public funding. As anyone with genuine, effective self esteem knows, it comes only from achievement, and it is quite different from the false and deluded self-image that is constructed by these kinds of ‘educators’.

The article carries on:

"Under the Domestic Violence Act 1995, all family members affected when a protection order is taken out must be offered assistance."

He Taonga Te Mokopuna has been running since 1998 in major North Island Centres under contract to the Department of Courts. This seems to be yet another organisation that has sprung up to join the queue at the public trough behind Victim Support, Woman’s Refuge, Women’s Centres, and the Stopping Violence programmes. The game is given away in the sentence above, which reveals that all these well-funded services are designed to swing into action at the point where a woman makes an accusation of physical abuse.

So far, this 10-session programme has reached about 400 children, but they report that as the reputation spreads the take-up is increasing. Officially the programme is for children 3-11 years old, but already they have identified a gap in the services for 11-18 year olds. We predict much more funding will be required.

J.P.

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Budget: $1.3 million to Eliminate Bullies

Minister of Education Nick Smith recently announced that the May 20 Budget would include $1.3 million for the Specialist Education Services ‘Eliminating Violence Programme’. He said that bullying had been part of school life for generations "but cannot be tolerated".

Is this yet another wildly exaggerated problem with an unattainable goal designed to secure continued funding for ‘re-educating’ males?

On 17th March 1999, TV1 screened a documentary on the work of the Specialist Education Services. Clearly, the issue of dysfunctional kids in schools does need to be addressed. One teacher was quoted as saying that she could ‘no longer’ sit a class down and just teach them – so much of her time had to be spent on control.

There was some good stuff – ‘Bronson’ clearly responded to input from the police intervention programme before backsliding, and ‘Michael’ getting a star on his chart each time the buzzer went off seemed like a sound behaviour modification technique (starting at 10 mins setting – teacher zeros it each time he misbehaves).

However, to recognise when a media story has been professionally "spun", I look for the following features, which were all present in the Bullies Documentary.

  • ATROCITY STORY – at beginning to engage emotions and set the scene for what follows (innocent girl gets viciously kicked to ground by boy, hospitalised, ends up in wheelchair).
  • DISINFORMATION – blatant lies inserted while recipient is experiencing shock/horror to bridge the credibility gap and make everything that follows seem consistent (voiceover claims: "these situations are not uncommon").
  • FAKE STATISTICS – wildly exaggerating the problem by using extremely broad definition – how would we define what is ‘normal’ in this situation? Usually researched by people with direct financial or political investment in outcome. No way of verifying accuracy. (Over 70% of children report being bullied – "Victims" flashed onto screen. No source for data given).
  • SMOKE AND MIRRORS – more misleading information to increase cognitive dissonance. (the interviewer from the Special Education Service "Eliminating Violence Programme" is filmed asking children to note down how many times their ‘body was hurt’ yesterday…last week….Only later the researcher reveals that most of what they define as ‘bullying’ is actually verbal & psychological abuse).
  • PSUEDOSCIENCE – an advocacy slogan disguised as scientific data – the message they want to sell you (20% are permanently damaged – how exactly do they define ‘permanent damage’? How could they exclude the effect of all the other traumatic experiences that children undergo?)

The SES/EVP woman also admitted that their intention was to "change beliefs". Parents who think school is for teaching skills and knowledge, and that beliefs are a personal and cultural matter that should be free from state control may not be too happy about this kind of agenda. After all, who gets to define which beliefs are acceptable and which aren’t?

I thought the most disturbing part was when the "Project Early" woman was training a group of kids to maintain surveillance of her target child. She could collect her "data" in the classroom without him (of course him) being aware he was the subject. Because she would be too obvious in the playground, several boys were recruited to be "secret squirrels" and watch his behaviour – transferring a bead from one pocket to another if he did anything wrong. A couple of girls were appointed to be ‘monitors’, to make sure the squirrels did their jobs properly.

Using these kinds of surveillance networks, individual Gestapo officers were able to control thousands of people in occupied Europe earlier this century. Later, behind the Iron Curtain in the Communist East, such techniques were honed to perfection. Perhaps our safe, non-violent future is to be based on tried and true totalitarian control mechanisms.

Do we really want our schoolchildren taught to become "trained observers", reporting every detail of incorrect behaviour to the authorities?

J.P

Letter from Music Teacher

To College Board of Trustees

Dear members

Teaching a musical instrument is often very much a hands-on activity, particularly in the early phases. This is especially true in the teaching of guitar and singing.

Accusations of sexual abuse seem to have increased markedly in the [local] area lately. I have personally been told of two incidences in the last 6 weeks.

Accusations of sexual abuse are easy to make but difficult in the extreme to disprove. Even though the accusations may prove to be groundless the damage caused is immense to both the accused and the accuser.

When I first started teaching some twelve years ago, an acquaintance of mine, a clinical psychologist, earnestly recommended that I not teach children unless another adult was present. This, I felt would be impractical. I did purchase and set up a video camera in my teaching studio. I must confess however, I rarely used it for the intended purpose.

These increasing allegations have demonstrated how necessary it is now to have a teaching ‘monitor’. I had decided I would not teach children unless the was another adult or a TV monitor viewing my actions.

A falsely accused teacher, and member of Casualties of Sexual allegations Inc (COSA) has advised me that an adult monitor of my teaching would only be suitable if that person were a professional teacher.

I have also discussed the various options with Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith, a doctor specialising in sexual abuse. She pointed out that having an additional adult present is not a fool-proof solution. Some of the alleged sexual assaults have occurred with more than one adult present. A video monitor seems the only practical solution.

I have made a temporary arrangement with another teacher to provide a video camera for the next few weeks. It is unfortunate such extremes must be applied but I feel it is the only way I can at least partly guard myself and my students from situations such as other teachers have found themselves in.

This problem is very very serious and will only get worse if not addressed. I feel the video monitor system with video tapes kept a minimum of six months is the only option. The monetary cost of one case of sexual abuse would greatly exceed the monitory cost of such a system, not to mention the social destruction that results from such an event. $10,000 or more is the projected defendant’s legal cost of this particular event that has triggered my action.

I look forward to your reply and would certainly be receptive should you see any other solution.

[name withheld]

Reply From Board

Thank you for your letter recommending purchase of a video monitor system to protect music tutors from allegations of sexual abuse. We acknowledge also receipt of information on COSA.

Your request for purchase of a video surveillance monitor was carefully considered by the board; however not only does the College not have the money available for this purchase, (being an unbudgeted expense) but it was believed even this would not ensure allegations of improper behaviour could be avoided. It was therefore agreed that a more pragmatic approach should be taken, ie: that tutors be fully aware of and ensure they comply at all times with guidelines set down under our Sexual Harassment Policy. Please check with [the two female teachers] who are developing "good practice" guidelines specifically for music tutors. We will communicate and reinforce the guidelines to all music tutors.

In addition and to further protect tutors, we suggest that a minimum of three students be present at a lesson otherwise, as a general rule, the lesson should not be held.

We acknowledge and appreciate tutors’ vulnerability to unfounded allegations but believe prudent practice and strict adherence to the guidelines will go far in avoiding any situations arising.

Support Group for Male Teachers

Auckland teacher Garth Houltham, of Fairburn Primary school, has set up a support network for male teachers. His initiative followed the widely publicised case last year in which Hamilton teacher John Edgar was acquitted of indecency charges after being falsely accused of sexual abuse by seven boys. Houlthan is concerned that in 1997 there were less than 5,000 male primary school teachers, compared to almost 20,000 females. He told the NZ Herald 23rd June 1998 that his group planned to develop a code of appropriate behaviour around children to reduce the risk of false allegations of abuse. He said he was sad that whereas years ago he would have cuddled a distressed junior child, nowadays it is too risky.

J.P.

Cases Against Teachers Increase

According to the 14th May Education Review, the total number of competency and disciplinary cases initiated against teachers and principals in 1998 increased to 593.

In 1995 there were 390 cases, and just over 500 in 1996. Of the nearly 600 cases last year, 186 were discipline-related, and included physical, verbal, or sexual assault, drunk on the job or fraud.

Competency issues were behind 121 of the cases, and of these, 52 involved primary school headmasters. No gender breakdown of the teachers investigated were given.

J.P.

Falsely Accused Teachers

COSA has had a number of falsely accused teachers contact us in recent years. While certainly some teachers do sexually molest children, it is all too easy for pupils to make wrongful allegations and be uncritically believed. Pointing the finger at a teacher gives students incredible power if they are angry with him (or her) and want revenge for being disciplined or slighted in some way.

The case of acquitted ex-teacher Dr John Edgar, demonstrated this well. Police chose to believe the boys rather than Edgar and other witnesses including fellow teachers. By all accounts, Edgar was an excellent teacher, and his loss from the profession depleted the already tiny pool of men prepared to teach in the 1990s.

Edgar called on male teachers to quit in interests of their safety. COSA can appreciate his concern, and endorses his claim that teaching leaves them wide open to sex abuse charges. However we are gravely concerned by the loss of men from our schools. With the excessive rise in children being brought up by solo mothers in the past 2 decades, so many children lack any male role models in their homes.

And not only are men too frightened to teach – they are also wary of being sports coaches, scout masters or instructors of other extra-curriculum activities for fear that they are accused.

The protective actions now promoted for teachers such as avoiding all touching of children and never being alone with a child may help prevent some from being accused. However they are not sufficient for all. COSA knows of cases (including the Edgar case) where the abuse was supposed to have occurred in full view of pupils and/or teachers, yet the police persisted because they believed the child complainant’s testimony. The non-touch policy may be useful, but it is tragic that a teacher cannot comfort and clean up an injured child; lend a shoulder to the deeply distressed; reward an achievement with a pat on the back, or offer physical support in gymnastics without being accused of ‘inappropriate touching’.

Nor are these measures realistic. Teachers may find themselves alone with pupils no matter how hard they try – a child might enter the classroom where a teacher is working alone during a break; some subjects such as music tuition are expected to be taught on a one-to-one basis.

The New Zealand Education Institute (which acts as a teachers’ union) is minimising the problem. They recently stated in a teachers’ publication (Eduvac 4 May 1998, sexual misconduct allegations a rare occurrence: NZEI Chief, 3) that it is rare for teachers to face false allegation charges. From the many stories we have heard from NZ teachers over the years, COSA would have to disagree.

Part of the problem is the never-ending expansion of the definition of ‘sexual abuse’ and the instruction students get from pre-school days about ‘bad touch’ and the terrible psychological damage it causes. This environment makes it all too easy for children to misinterpret or distort innocent acts as having sexual ‘intent’.

They may also decide retrospectively that a sexual encounter must have been ‘abusive’ because a boy or girl-friend has rejected them, or they have fallen out. Recently 201 girls and 176 boys aged 16 to 18, from 45 Auckland High Schools, were surveyed about sexual abuse experiences. The results, published in the CYPS publication Social Work Now, found that nearly half of the boys and 65% of the girls had experienced ‘sexual abuse’ while dating. Abuse was defined from unwanted kissing through to sexual intercourse.

Most adults will recall adolescent sexuality as a minefield to navigate. Early sexual experiences might be exciting, painful, confusing, over-whelming. While in no way endorsing unwanted sexual advances being forced on teenagers by their peers, I suspect that in many instances the mutual fumblings of inexperienced sexually aroused teenagers are being excessively elevated to the status of ‘sexual abuse’. One of the dangers of this definition, of course, is that serious sexual molestation gets trivialised.

Felicity Goodyear-Smith

Boys In Schools – One Day Conference

Friday 9th July 1999

The groundswell of opinion is running very high that things desperately need to change. Man Alive asks you to attend and take an active part in this important conference, and become part of a cooperative nexus willing to make a difference – ultimately for everybody.

Related topic areas that will be presented and discussed include:

  • Initiation: rites of passage
  • Attitudes: boys, teachers, communities
  • Sexual development: gender issues
  • Lack of positive role models
  • Belonging: home & peer group
  • Fathering & fatherlessness
  • Impact of feminism
  • Mentoring & coaching
  • Creativity: bringing self to life
  • Curricular structure: content, choices
  • Teacher / student relationships
  • Factors that impact performance
  • Impact of assessment on motivation
  • Behaviour & growth, relevance, labelling, fulfilling stereotypes
  • Future work: choices, patterns, potentials.

Registration details below:

Boys In Schools

Presented by Man Alive

9.00am to 4.30pm

Waitakere City Council Chambers, Waitakere City

Keynote speakers:

David Hood

Barbara Lusk

Warwick Pudney

$90 includes

lunch, morning & afternoon teas

Enquiries to:

Fraser Bruce rhythm.co.@clear.net.nz

(09)817 3644

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