Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

What’s happening to our boys?:

'Blue collar' boys are counting themselves out of success at school says a new book by South Australian researcher.
By Motherpedia
Date: April 10 2015
Tags: teenage boys,
Editor Rating:

Boys from low socio-economic backgrounds may well be disengaging from school in response to wider prejudices towards them that exist in the community.

A new book by Dr Garth Stahl, entitled Identity, Neoliberalism and Education: Educating white working-class boys, explores the issues around social class, male identity and stereotypes as well as challenges the system and society where working class boys are characterised as difficult and ‘abnormal’.

“The plummeting educational achievement of working class, white boys is now a global issue of concern,” Dr Stahl says.

Through close research of working-class boys in London, Dr Stahl has identified not only that they were stereotyped as unlikely to succeed, but that the boys were fully aware of their own disadvantage and the prejudices that characterised them as lower class, and were actively choosing to disengage. 

“They felt they were playing a no-win game, caught between stigma and risk,” Dr Stahl says. 

“They feared academic failure, but they also feared academic success because it may catapult them into a future where they would never feel truly comfortable or accepted. 

“As poor, low social status boys, they believed they would never belong in an environment of success and privilege and that they didn’t want to be part of a group that enshrined that kind of inequality. 

“For these boys the safest option was to try to get a job and create an identity aligned to defiant egalitarianism.  

“Furthermore, they dis-identified with being ‘the best of the best’, instead articulating how they valued loyalty to peers and family.  Egalitarianism was how they made themselves feel valuable in schools which de-valued them.”

Dr Stahl says that his research shows that calls for relatively superficial changes to the education system will not make a difference.

“Calls for adjustments such as longer teaching days or parachuting star teachers into disadvantaged schools, would not make inroads into what was a much broader and deeper social problem.

“What I have learned is that boys will create and constitute an identity and a values system for themselves, even within environments that devalue them,” Dr Stahl says. 

“But that perception of being less valuable has an enduring influence on the kind of identity these boys create for themselves and their educational aspirations and outcomes.” 

* * * 

The book is published by Routledge and available from Amazon.

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