The performance problems of boys in school are not the fault of masculine norms. It is the absence of these norms that is the problem.
In an article in SVT Opinion, the three authors (Ida Östensson, Karen Austin and Roberth Maier Ericsson) argue that traditional masculine roles are to blame for boys’ declining performance in Swedish schools. This supposedly limiting male role allegedly leads to an anti-study culture where boys exhibit “hyperactivity, aggression and an aversion to learning during schooling.”
The article is a response to another recent article by editorial writer Csaba Bene Perleberg in the newspaper Göteborgs-Posten. Perleberg highlights boys as a discriminated group in the Swedish school system with a focus on the alarming divergence in performance and grades that educators and the public have been been aware of for some time.
Swedish education seems to be suffering from a growing shortage of equality in both the treatment of students and educational results even though we, more than any other country, are preoccupied by concerns over gender and feminism.
To say that boys are discriminated against in school is obviously a very provocative position. Yet we know that this is so. Statistics speak for themselves. Boys are the big losers in today’s schools.
The grade performance gap between boys and girls is widening today at an alarming pace. The latest PISA results show that girls achieve higher average scores than boys in all subjects except athletics. The same trends can be seen for the rest of our universities and colleges. Significantly more women than men both enter higher education and reach graduation.
To then try to explain these indisputable facts by shifting the problem to masculinity is not only misleading but also clearly inhumane.
It will ultimately only increase the disparity in both the treatment of students and the educational results we see today. It is based implicitly on the premise that boys do not have problems in school: they are the problem.
But it is NOT masculine norms that are the problem in Swedish schools. It is rather the absence of masculine norms and the lack of boys’ perspectives that have become the biggest obstacle for us to combat the problem of differential achievement. We have created a school system that favors girls. It is this and nothing else is causing the boys’ lack of success reflected in school performance lags and grade gap increases. Social skills and interpersonal skills are overvalued in today’s schools. This favors the girls in front of the boys who are often driven by intrinsic motivation and stimulated by challenges and competition.
We also know that boys generally mature in social skills and linguistics more slowly than girls in the lower age groups. These differences can be smoothed out eventually in schools that recognize and are able to deal with this fact. That biological factors and gender differences play a role in school performance has been documented by neuroscientist and researcher Professor Ingvar.
Many of today’s male students testify that their problems began as early as middle school, sometimes even earlier. It is also at this age that sex differences in maturity and mental concentration (focus) are greatest. A feeling of not succeeding and being considered a problem is likely to become permanent in an individual’s self-image, which will affect the motivation and desire to learn in a negative way for a long time to come.
By trying to squeeze all students in the same educational template we create in fact a school that is the opposite of equality.
A school that is unable to adapt to students’ intrinsic conditions can never be the springboard to a continued successful and prosperous life that school is supposed to be.
Boys’ declining performance in Swedish schools is a problem that not only involves personal suffering and the risk of exclusion. It is also an economic failure and a problem that is worth being taken very seriously before it becomes even more of a societal crisis.
Authors: Annelie Sjöberg is a Secondary School teacher and Joakim Ramstedt is a web editor and blogger in Sweden.
This article was originally published in Swedish here: http://www.svt.se/opinion/article2763027.svt
Translation assisted by August Løvenskiolds and Ulf T.