October 27th 2012


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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Gillard unleashes gender wars against Abbott by national correspondent

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Now to win the debate on marriage

ENVIRONMENT: Arctic sea ice recovery contradicts "global warming"

ENVIRONMENTALISM: Community legal centres under review over anti-coal campaign

SPECIAL FEATURE: A voice for the unborn: Lord Nicholas Windsor in Australia

EDITORIAL: UN Security Council bid hopelessly misconceived

GLOBAL ECONOMY: How long before the eurozone breaks up?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia's resources boom officially over

OPINION: Young Australians disadvantaged in jobs market

SCHOOLS: Our schools put boys at a disadvantage

COUNSELLLING: Choice denied: You must stay trapped in your lifestyle

HISTORY: Twinkling-eyed mass-murderer of the Spanish Civil War

LETTERS

CINEMA: Time-travelling crime gangs and hitmen

BOOK REVIEW How economics could benefit from Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas

BOOK REVIEW Deceiving Hitler

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SCHOOLS:
Our schools put boys at a disadvantage


by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, October 27, 2012

For years, teachers and schools have been told to positively discriminate in favour of girls. Feminists argue that the way schools work and the way they teach subjects give boys an unfair advantage and it’s time to push girls to the front.

Wrong. The reality is that girls outperform boys. The way teachers are told to teach and the way subjects are organised best suit the way girls learn and leave boys at the bottom of the class.

The evidence? Take the figures from the recent OECD publication, Education at a Glance 2012. When it comes to reading, one of the basics in education that determines success or failure, girls are well ahead.

And the problem is not just in Australia. The OECD report states: “Girls outperformed boys on the PISA 2009 reading assessment in every OECD country and by 39 points on average, the equivalent of one year of school.’’ (PISA is the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment).

Not only are girls a year ahead when it comes to reading, they are also more ambitious when it comes to careers and they are more successful in getting into university.

In relation to tertiary entry, the report argues “the gender gap exceeds 20 percentage points in Australia, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Sweden’’.

Australia’s literacy and numeracy tests provide more evidence that girls are ahead.

With English skills, the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) 2011 report concluded that “average scale scores are higher for female students than for male students for Australia as a whole and for every jurisdiction. The differences are substantial and consistent, averaging 21 scale points’’.

Even when it comes to maths, an area where boys traditionally have done better than girls, the bad news is that boys’ results have gone backwards. More girls than boys are achieving at or above the national minimum standard.

Boys are also more likely to have behavioural problems, as measured by suspensions from schools. One Australian report looking at years 7 and 9 shows that the rate for boys, at 10.9 per cent, is almost double that for girls, at 6 per cent.

The reasons boys are going backwards are many. Given the effect of the feminist movement over the past 30 to 40 years, it shouldn’t surprise that much of the curriculum and how schools work have been feminised.

In primary schools, the fact that there are so few male teachers means boys lack role models. New-age teaching methods such as open classrooms and teachers acting as facilitators and not authority figures all benefit girls and not boys.

Unlike girls, who are more adaptable, boys need structure and discipline when it comes to how they best learn. Boys need to be told what to do, to have a clear idea of how to do it and to have clear boundaries enforced when it comes to discipline and classroom behaviour.

The way beginning reading is taught in early primary school provides the best example of discrimination against boys. The more traditional method of teaching reading involves phonics and phonemic awareness, where children are taught the relationship between letters, groups of letters and sounds.

The new-age, progressive approach is called whole language, where children are expected to learn how to read as naturally as learning how to talk. When it comes to print, they are told to “look and guess’’ and work out the meaning by accompanying pictures or images.

As argued by Byron Harrison, a reading expert from Tasmania who along with Jean Clyde published Reading Through Tears: New Insights into the Teaching of Reading (Hobart: VAS Research, 2005), the whole language approach is guaranteed to disadvantage boys and lead to frustration and failure.

And the way schools wrap children in cotton wool and ban physical games also discriminates against boys. As most parents know, boys need to have the freedom to be physical, to let off steam and to challenge others.

The gender police are also wrong to ban boys from wearing superhero costumes to school and from reading action comics and novels because there is too much violence and male aggression.

As child psychologists understand, such an approach is counter-productive because boys need strong male role models to excite their imagination and teach them about resilience, being brave and overcoming adversity.

Prime Minister Gillard’s list of disadvantaged groups includes indigenous, working-class, rural and remote and migrant children.

It’s time to add boys.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute and author of Educating Your Child: It’s Not Rocket Science! (available from News Weekly Books). The above article first appeared in Melbourne’s Herald Sun


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