Demonisation of failing boys

11th December 1998 at 00:00
I MUST take issue with your representation of my views in "Failing boys 'public burden number one'," (TES, November 27).

I do not believe that failing boys are public burden number one. In my contribution to the book Failing Boys? I argue that they are often regarded as such and that rather than concentrating on addressing problems consequent on changes in the labour market we blame the boys themselves. Problems of unemployment become unhelpfully reconfigured as problems of unemployability.

I also point to the international epidemic of concern about boys and argue that there needs to be a much more careful analysis of who is underachieving relative to whom at what age and in what subject areas.

Here we might ask why working-class girls receive so little attention and why it is that we continue to blame schools, instead of addressing the socio-economic factors associated with under-achievement.

Again, I argue that the problem is not with the boys rather with the way the debate is being conducted. The demonisation of working-class boys and the stereotyping of them as the sole carriers of aggressive and dominating masculinities is distorting.

Failing Boys? edited by Debbie Epstein and her colleagues is a serious book which attempts to shift the terms of the debate in more constructive directions. One of the points made by a number of authors, including myself, is that media sensationalism of the kind we have witnessed over the past few years is unhelpful. It is somewhat ironic therefore that your report of my views should be another example that rather proves our point.

Pat Mahony. Professor of education. Roehampton Institute. London Froebel College. London SW15

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