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«WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? An investigation into the social construction of 'problems' through the case of boys and their education. Susan Askew Thesis ...»

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An investigation into the social construction of 'problems'

through the case of boys and their education.

Susan Askew

Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Institute of Education

University of London

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This thesis examines the social construction of 'problems' related to boys' education and

solutions to them. It illustrates postmodernist arguments that 'truth' is relative and partial,

knowledge is produced by and for particular interests, in particular contexts and at particular times (Scheurich, 1997), and poststructuralist arguments that how we think about problems is determined by available discourses. This is demonstrated through an analysis of the changing ways that boys' behaviour and achievement have been problematised over the last twenty-five years.

My focus on boys and their education started with action research in boys' schools in the 1980s.

I revisit this research with the intention of analysing discourses about boys, and the conditions that made these discourses possible then. At this time feminist researchers and teachers identified boys' behaviour as problematic for girls and women teachers (Askew and Ross, 1988a). Solutions included curriculum intervention to challenge boys' sexism. Action research then suggested a 'truth' about boys, which contrasts with the 'truth' proposed by women teachers, the media, researchers and policy makers in the 2000s. Contemporary media discourse proposes boys are 'underachieving': the focus has shifted from behaviour to performance measured by external tests. Solutions now include boy-only classes in mixed schools, 'boyfriendly' schooling, and changes to pedagogy, examination processes and curriculum content.

Deconstruction of discourses and solutions to 'problems' of boys' behaviour and achievement highlights their textuality and challenges their 'truth'.

The thesis contributes to understanding about:

• changing discourses about boys and contexts in which these discourses are produced, achieve a common-sense status that limits other possibilities and leads to policy decisions with doubtful logic and value

• the social function of identifying boys as a problem, or as having problems

• developing an archaeological (Foucault, 1972) research method to deconstruct educational 'problems'

• ontological issues in research.

I hereby declare that except where explicit attribution is made, the work presented in this thesis is entirely my own.

Word count (exclusive of appendices, list of reference and bibliography):

79,983 words.

Contents PAGE Chapter One: Introduction Chapter Two: Methodology 17 Part One: The 1980s - 'Problem Boys': Study of the social construction of 'boys' sexism' and 'sexist boys' schools', the social construction of solutions to the perceived 'problems', and the factors that made it possible for the emergence of these discourses.

–  –  –

3.1 Study of the construction of 'problems' relating to boys in school in the early-mid 1980s.

3.2 Study of the social construction of solutions to the 'boy problem':

why are some solutions acceptable and others unacceptable?

–  –  –

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Equal Opportunity policy development at Local Authority Level

4.3 Feminism between the late 1960s and early 1980s 4.3.1 Liberal Feminism and education 4.3.2 Radical feminism and education

4.4 Early conceptions of masculinity 4.4.1 Born male: biological determinism 4.4.2 Learning to be male: sex role theory 4.4.3 Constructing masculinity: patriarchy Part Two: The 1990s-2000s - 'Boys with Problems': Study of the social construction of 'boys' underachievement', the social construction of solutions to the perceived 'problems', and the factors that made it possible for the emergence of new discourses.

Chapter Five: The social construction of 'problems' and 'solutions' to the 'boy problem' in the media and public policy in the 2000s 93

5.1 Introduction

5.2 The role of the media

5.3 Reaffirming the boys - prioritising the boy-centred curriculum, pedagogy and assessment

5.4 Reassuring the boys - emotional work

5.5 Reforming the boys

5.6 Reconceptualising schooling

–  –  –

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Analysis of women's talk and understanding of boys and boys' schools in the 2000s

6.3 Women teachers' strategies for working with boys Chapter Seven: Competing discourses within Masculinist writing and the social function of each.

7.1 Introduction

7.2 New essentialists

7.3 Social constructivists 7.3.1 Gender regimes in school 7.3.2 Boy-centred research

7.4 Deconstructing masculinity Chapter Eight: The changing economic, social and educational context for work with boys since the mid 1990s.

8.1 Introduction

8.2 The economy and employment in postmodern UK

8.3 Change in education

–  –  –

9.1 Introduction

9.2 Problems with a boys' educational strategy

9.3 Why the concern about boys now?

Chapter Ten: Reflections on the research

10.1 Issues in this research

10.2 Research and truth

10.3 Reflections on learning References


–  –  –

Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Alex Moore, for encouragement and very helpful feedback.

This thesis is dedicated to Dr. Eileen Carnell, friend and colleague for thirty years, who never gave up her belief that I would eventually finish it (even when the opposite seemed far more likely) and for reading and re-reading drafts over too many years to mention, always asking the most insightful questions and seeming to understand better than I did myself what I was attempting to accomplish.

And for my mother, Kathleen Mary Askew, who, having spent her life on farms in the North Riding of Yorkshire, nearing her 80s and never having heard of Foucault, has been gamely discussing these ideas with me, as if they were old hat. If I am ever prepared to be open to new ways of seeing things, I get it from her.

Chapter One: IntroductionBoys in crisis?

Several early sociological studies investigated the behaviour of specific groups of young men, for example, Thrasher's The Gang (1927) and Whyte's Street Corner Society (1943), without making 'masculinity' explicit or problematic. These early studies were focused on delinquency and deviance from the 'norm'. In the 1960s and 1970s some researchers were concerned with how socio-economic status affected boys' experiences in secondary schools (Hargreaves, 1967;

Lacey, 1970; Willis, 1977; Halsey et at, 1980). These researchers found that working class boys left school earlier and achieved less. In these studies too, explanations were not focused on masculinity or sexuality. For example, Willis (1977) explained the 'lads' culture in terms of class-based resistance. The 'problem' of boys in school was subsumed under the 'problem' of

working class underachievement (Delamont, 2001: 39):

The 'othering' offemininity by the 'lads' is represented in Willis' account as part of the process through which class relations are produced - through which certain young men draw upon and create a working-class identity - rather than as a particular mode of masculinity (Frosh, Phoenix and Pattman, 2002: 53).

In the 1980s gender equality in education was predominantly concerned with the education of girls: for example, girls' participation and achievement in mathematics, science and technology (Kelly, 1981; Culley, 1986; Whyte, 1986a); girls' stereotypical course choice (Gaskell, 1984) and vocational choices (Prout, 1983); harassment of girls in school (Jones, 1985; Mahoney, 1985); name-calling to put down girls and regulate them (Lees, 1986); objectification of girls and women teachers' bodies (Wood, 1984); stereotypical teacher expectations of girls in relation to interests and ability (Walkerdine, 1988); fewer images and stereotypical roles in reading schemes and other educational resources (Stones, 1983; Battersea County Women's Group, 1985); boys monopolisation of teacher time and physical space in the mixed sex classroom (Sarah and Spender, 1980; Stanworth, 1981); and sexist language in the school (Spender, 1980b and 1983, Walkerdine, 1985).

Boys, when the focus in the 1980s, were largely viewed as part of the 'problem' for girls, and boys' 'sexism' was examined in the feminist research and literature (Wood, 1984; Jones, 1985;

Mahoney, 1985; Askew and Ross, 1988a, 1989). 'Solutions' tended to focus on challenging boys' 'sexism'. For example, from 1982-1984 I was appointed as an action researcher to teach, develop and evaluate a curriculum initiative, Skills for Living (SfL), for first and second year (years 7 and 8) boys in Woodland Boys School (WBS). WBS was the only school in the UK at this time l to design a core 'anti-sexist' course for first and second year pupils. Between 1984Subsequently materials designed and produced for anti-sexist work with boys (Askew and Ross, 1990) were published nationally. These were used as part of other core subjects, for example, art, media studies, English 1986 I was seconded to work in the newly formed Local Education Authority (LEA) Equal Opportunities team for two years as one of four Advisory Teachers. My brief was to develop anti-sexist work with boys across the Authority, and support women teachers in boys' schools.

Since the mid-1990s there has been a shift, from seeing boys as 'a problem' to boys with 'problems' and a 'crisis' has been identified in relation to boys (O'Donnell and Sharpe 2000;

Mac an Ghaill, 1994). From the early 1990s, over thirty books (see Appendix 1) and four hundred journal articles have been published in the UK exploring the 'crisis' in masculinity and suggesting solutions to the perceived problems (Seidler, 1989; Jukes, 1993; Salisbury and Jackson, 1996; Bleach, 1998; Gilbert and Gilbert, 1998; Head, 1999; Frosh, 1994,2000; Frosh, Phoenix and Pattman, 2002; Martino and Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). Eminent politicians and educationalists have stated that the 'underachievement' of boys is one of the 'main social issues', 'biggest challenges', 'disturbing problems', and 'important issues' of today. In 1999 Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, was prominently reported as saying that 'the main social issue of our time pertains to the behaviour and role of young men' (0' Donnell and Sharpe, 2000: 1).

These views are found in the following quotes (my emphasis):

As we enter the next millennium it is the under-achievement of boys that has become one of the biggest challenges facing society today (Ted Wragg, Times Educational Supplement. 16 May 1997).

The underachieving boy is one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system (Chris Woodhead, then Chief Inspector for Schools. The Times Magasine, 30 March 1996).

This book addresses one of the most important issues of our time and it does so compellingly (preface to Bleach, 1998. 'Raising Boys' Achievement in Schools'.

Professor Tim Brighouse, then Chief Education Officer for Birmingham).

Since the early 1990s regular claims in the English speaking press have asserted that boys are in 'crisis', 'failing' and 'outperformed' by girls.

For example:

and PSHE. However, as far as I am aware SfL remains the only timetabled course of its kind in the UK ever to have as its main aim anti-sexist work with boys.

'Girls Trounce The Boys In Education League Tables' (The Times. 3rd.September 1994) 'The War On Boys' (America, Men's Health. October 1994) 'Inquiry Tips Single Sex Classes To Help Boys' (The Australian Sunday Telegraph. 1st May 1994) 'Hard Times For Britain's Lost Boys' (The New Scientist. 4th February 1995) 'Is The Future Female?' (Panorama, BBCl. May 1995) 'Girls Doing Well While Boys Feel Neglected' (The Guardian. 26th August 1995) 'Perils Oflgnoring Our Lost Boys' (The Times Educational Supplement. 28 th June 1996) 'The Sex Of Success' (Australia, The Courier-Mail. 13th January 1996) 'The Trouble With Men' (The Economist. 28th September1996) 'Girls Outclassing Boys' (The Guardian. 26 th November 1997) 'Time We Had Jobs For The Boys' (The Daily Telegraph. 5th January 1998) 'Grim Reading For Males' (The Guardian. 6 th January 1998) 'What Nobody Ever Bothered To Ask About Boys' (The International Herald Tribune. 27 th March 1998) 'Boys In Crisis' (The Mirror. 17th August 2000) 'Let's Hear It For The Boys' (The Independent. February 2000) 'How Exams Are Fixed In Favour Of Girls' (The Spectator. 20 th January 2001) 'What Is It With Boys?' (The Times Educational Supplement. 15 th November 2002) 'Boy Story' (The Guardian. 26 th August 2003) 'Single-Sex Classes Get Boys Back To Work' (The Sunday Telegraph. 30th March 2003) 'Putting The Class Back In Our Boys' (The Independent. 27th November 2003) 'Gender Gap Here To Stay' (The Times Educational Supplement. 21 st January 2005) 'Exam Results Reveal Gender Gulf In Schools' (The Observer. 15 th May 2005) '11-Year-Old Boys Fall Further Behind Girls In The Three Rs' (The Guardian. 1st November 2005) Girls are now seen as having equality of opportunity and their educational performance has been reported as outstripping that of boys. Indeed, in 1995, Michael Barber, (at the time of writing, Director of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit) asked whether 'girls have had it too good for too long' (Barber 1995: 5). While in the early 1980s resources, research, policy and practice in education relating to equal opportunities was directed toward girls' education, the mid 1990s - early 2000s saw a shift, with resources, research, policy and practice relating to gender equity being focused on boys' achievement. Stephen Byers, the then School Standards Minister, announced at the 11 th International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement in Manchester, January 2001, a new approach to 'tackling boys' achievement' in the form of legislation requiring each local education authority to make a commitment to raising boys' achievement as part of their Educational Development Plans (BBC News Online, 2001).

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