Boys are lagging in schools: has feminization gone too far?

Guest author Paul Bennett discusses the divisive issue of gender and pedagogy

Why are boys lagging behind girls in today's schools? A couple of weeks ago, The Toronto Globe and Mail published a whole series of in-depth articles entitled "Failing Boys" and focusing on the so-called "boy problem" in our schools and in the wider North American society.

How time has changed in education. As recently as 1998, the popular press was full of stories about schools short-changing girls and residual examples of gender bias in our supposedly sanitized, politically-correct textbooks. There is definitely a new gender gap in education: in Canada and North America, boys now rank behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement and young men are gradually being superceded in universities and the professions.

Can the "feminization" of educators and teaching practices be affecting boys' achievement in school?
Can the "feminization" of educators and teaching practices be affecting boys' achievement in school? St. Michael's College School. PHOTO BY: Toby Asmoucha.

The "Boy Problem" has crept up on us in schools. But the basic facts can no longer be ignored:

  • Only 31.9 percent of boys have overall marks of at least 80 percent, compared to 46.3 per cent who make the A grade.
  • Only 20. 4 percent of boys score in the top 25 % on standardized reading tests, compared to 30.1 percent of girls. Thirty percent of boys score in the bottom 25 percent, while only 19 percent of girls do so.
  • Nearly one in 10 boys repeat a grade (9.9 percent) compared to 6.5 percent of girls.
  • Boys are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and prescribed medication three times as often as girls.
  • In Ontario, just 27 percent of teachers are male, down from 31 percent a decade ago. In B.C., 28 percent of practising teachers are male.
  • Young men are now the minority in most university classes , and women account for about 60 percent of all Canadian undergraduates.

Searching for the root cause leads us in many different directions, including the instruction of phonics as the Our Kids Blog previously discussed. In a fine overview piece (October 16, 2010), Education Reporter Kate Hammer identified five key factors: the feminization of education, the appeal of video games, the boy code of behaviour, developmental differences, and the lack of positive role models. The most contentious of these is "feminization" because it raises fundamental questions about the unintended consequences of one of the most important social movements of the 1960s and 70s.

Talking about the possible feminization of education has been frowned upon until recently, at least inside the public education system. It's already a raging debate in Western Europe where the "feminized pedagogy" is a divisive political issue and scholars openly debate whether "feminization" has led to a "softer" curriculum less suited to boys than girls.

Recently, I attended the Biennial Canadian History of Education Conference (Toronto, October 21-24, 2010) where Greetje Timmerman of the University of Groningen gave a fascinating academic paper on the subject. The paper, entitled "Tough or Soft?: The Invention of Feminine Pedagogy as a Cause for Educational Crisis," raised a few eyebrows.

Progressive educational philosophies, rooted in the writings of Rousseau, Herbart, Froebel and Dewey, continue to exert a powerful influence in modern education. It has resulted in "child-centred education" where teachers strive to make schoolwork not only relevant, but sensitive to the interests of children. Instead of challenging pupils to master content, they simply entertain (i.e., try to make learning interesting or stimulating).

Educational reformers seeking higher standards have termed this approach "soft pedagogy" and contend that it has been furthered by the feminization of the teaching ranks, especially in the Western World. Pupils, they say, are no longer trained to have the strength of will to do the hard and uninteresting work of life. They are left by the school weak and flabby, demanding continual entertainment and capable of doing only that which appeals to their inclinations.

In Canada, the best examples can be found in High School English classrooms. English literature teachers, in particular, are often accused of loading their course reading lists with "women's books" by the Bronte sisters, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

In its 2009 report, the Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office noted that boys are not reading as much outside of class, with those reading 3+ hours per week dropping by 4 percentage points to only 32 percent. While in class, the mostly female teacher force generally find today's adolescent boys unruly, tuned-out, or inclined to skip heavy reading classes.

It's time to ask a few uncomfortable questions: How has the feminization of the teaching profession impacted upon the education of boys? Do new fashion teaching methods such as pair-and-share, cooperative learning, and other "soft" pedagogies work to the disadvantage of boys?

Even though "feminine" or "soft" pedagogy is a serious public issue in Europe, here in Canada and the U.S. raising the matter remains an educational taboo. When we can discuss it freely and openly, then we will be discussing another "elephant in the classroom."

—Paul W. Bennett
Find Private Schools:

List of private all-boys' schools

  School Name Type Cost

Crescent School (est. 1913)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • Day school (750 students)
Crescent School is a Toronto independent day school for boys in Grades 3 to 12. Our learning environment develops students' characters through academics, arts, athletics, business, outreach and robotics. [View profile]
  • Traditional

reviews (1)

• User reviews (1)
MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 34150

Upper Canada College (est. 1829)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • SK to 12 Boys
  • Day school (1082 students)
  • Boarding school (88 students)
Located in the heart of Toronto, Upper Canada College is the oldest independent boys' school in Ontario. Our IB graduates are highly regarded by top universities and post-secondary institutions worldwide. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
  • International Baccalaureate
$33,300 to $61,860

Our Kids

reviews (2)
• Our Kids Review
• User reviews (2)
Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Boys 33300

Robert Land Academy (est. 1978)  

  • Wellandport, Ontario
  • 5 to 12 Boys
  • Boarding school (125 students)
Robert Land Academy is a private military-themed boarding school (Gr 5-12) helping boys to achieve their potential and gain admission to post-secondary programs. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$53,965 to $57,965

Our Kids

• Our Kids Review
MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Boys 53965

St. George's School (est. 1930)  

  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • 8 to 12 Boys
  • Boarding school (110 students)
  • Boarding school (110 students)
St. George's School in Vancouver offers university-preparatory program to Canadian and International boarding students from Grade 8 to 12. The School's mission: Building Fine Young Men. One Boy at a Time. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$52,570 to $71,490

HighSchools Boarding Boarding Boys 52570

Northmount School (est. 1990)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • Day school (125 students)
Northmount School offers an enriched curriculum in Catholic education from junior kindergarten to grade eight in Toronto. Its average class size is eight to 15 students. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$17,400 to $21,300

Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys 17400

The Sterling Hall School (est. 1987)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • Day school (315 students)
The Sterling Hall School is a leading independent school for boys, JK to Grade 8. We understand how boys learn best and we support each boy in his learning journey. [View profile]
  • Progressive

Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys 30400

St. Peter's ACHS College School (est. 1990)  

  • Harrow, Ontario
  • 1 to 8 Boys
  • Boarding school (6 students)
  • Day school (13 students)
St. Peter's ACHS College School in Amherstburg, Ont. is a day/residency school for boys grades 1-8 who love Sports and the Outdoors. Tuition starts at $8,900. and is a member of OFIS. We put "FUN" back into learning. [View profile]
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
$8,500 to $29,000

reviews (2)

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Elementary MiddleSchools Boarding Day Boys 8500

London International Academy (est. 2002)  

  • London, Ontario
  • 9 to 12 Boys/Girls/Coed
  • Boarding school (150 students)
  • Boarding school (145 students)
  • Day school (5 students)
A Canadian Private Secondary Co-ed Boarding school, located in downtown London, Ontario. LIA offers academic courses from Grades 9-12 and is authorized to grant the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). [View profile]
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
$11,000 to $41,900

HighSchools Boarding Boarding Day Boys Girls Coed 11000

St. Michael's College School (est. 1852)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • 7 to 12 Boys
  • Day school (1000 students)
St. Michael's College School offers students in Grades 7-12 an enriched, Catholic, liberal arts education complemented by a diverse co-curricular programme. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts

MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 20150

Royal St. George's College (est. 1964)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • Day school (426 students)
RSGC is an urban day school that combines academic excellence with a stimulating and supportive environment. Our mission is to challenge and inspire each boy to become the best version of himself. [View profile]
  • Progressive

MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 32840

Hampshire Country School (est. 1948)  

  • Rindge, New Hampshire(USA)
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • Boarding school (25 students)
A friendly, active boarding school for bright boys who have good intentions but who may be too impulsive, intense, or bothersome for other schools and whose intellectual interests may separate them from their peers. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
US $61,500

MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Boys 61500

Selwyn House School (est. 1901)  

  • Westmount, Quebec
  • K to 11 Boys
  • Day school (550 students)
Selwyn House School provides a well-rounded education of exceptional depth and scope for boys from Kindergarten to Grade 11. It is located in Westmount, Quebec. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$19,880 to $25,760

Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 19880

St. Clement's Early Learning School (est. 1955)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 2 Coed/Boys
  • Day school (120 students)
  • Day school (25 students)
St. Clement's Early Learning School 70 St. Clements Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4R 1H2 St. Clement’s Early Learning School provides a child with an opportunity for growth in all areas of his or her development. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$8,500 to $20,500

reviews (1)

• User reviews (1)
Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Day Coed Boys 8500

St. Andrew's College (est. 1899)  

  • Aurora, Ontario
  • 5 to 12 Boys
  • Day school (360 students)
  • Boarding school (260 students)
St. Andrew's College offers programs from grades 5 to 12 in Aurora. Its average class size is 17 students. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$36,920 to $68,720

MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Boys 36920

Linbrook School (est. 2014)  

  • Oakville, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • Day school (180 students)
Linbrook School is Oakville's only all-boys school. This independent, not-for-profit day school fosters and supports each individual students special skills as an athlete, musician, performer, artist, writer or humanitarian. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$21,950 to $25,950

Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys 21950

North Point School For Boys (est. 2014)  

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • K to 9 Boys
  • Day school (80 students)
North Point School for Boys is a Kindergarten to Grade 9 independent school in which curious and energetic boys are challenged and motivated, developing into young men of integrity with a genuine love of learning. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$7,000 to $12,000

reviews (1)

• User reviews (1)
Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys 7000

Great Lakes Christian High School (est. 1952)  

  • Beamsville, Ontario
  • 9 to 12 Coed/Boys
  • Day school (62 students)
  • Boarding school (80 students)
  • Boarding school (52 students)
  • Homestay school (16 students)
Great Lakes Christian High School offers programs for grades nine through 12 in Beamsville. It accepts day and boarding students. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$10,300 to $40,400

HighSchools Day Boarding Boarding Homestay Coed Boys 10300

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