Equal? Not if you're a man;Opinion

10th September 1999 at 01:00
Boys are being deprived of role models by the massive gender imbalance in teaching, says George McAulay

IT COMES as no surprise to anyone connected to the UK Men's Movement that fewer than 1 per cent of the 5,000 classroom assistants appointed to Scottish primary schools are to be men.

We have long been aware of the feminist ideal of men being totally excluded from any part of a child's upbringing, be it in the family or the classroom. It galls me to admit it, but the campaigners have been almost completely successful in the pursuit of the latter half of this socially harmful objective.

Over the past seven years, the UK Men's Movement has made representations to the Scottish Office Education Department, to Brian Wilson, the former education minister, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the (so-called) Equal Opportunities Commission, the Department for Education and Employment and various education secretaries south of the border about the sorry state of boys' education.

For most of that time, the line taken was to deny the problem, and when it became undeniable, to seek refuge in the traditional tools of obfuscation and delay.

The problem is multifaceted, much of it outwith the remit of education. It will not be cured by politically correct nostrums administered by man-hating feminist zealots. It will not even be helped much by normal, nice, female teachers or even clever and competent female teachers.

These are not merely our own observations, but those of a man whose work I have known of and respected for some 10 years, and with whom I have corresponded, the educational psychologist Spencer Holland. He is American and black (a fortunate fact in that he was spared a double-dose of opprobrium from PC ideologues).

Most of Dr Holland's work took place in inner-city schools where a staggering 90 per cent of families are single-mother led. He saw that young boys did as well as girls until about the onset of puberty, when results, attendance and behaviour nose-dived.

He identified the problem as these boys having no respect at all for women, and no positive male role models. He managed to get a class helper project adopted in three states, using unpaid male volunteers anxious to help the lost boys of black America. I remember seeing one who introduced himself as a lawyer who flew F-15 fighters at the weekend with the National Guard.

The day job may have "sucked" in the estimation of his youthful charges but his weekend job kicked ass. Young boys are still impressed by the heroic and honourable. They might tell Miss Brodie to shove it, but they will walk softly and stand in awe of a teacher who's a Top Gun.

Dr Holland's downfall was sadly inevitable when he said on national television:

"To teach these boys, a black man is best, a white man is good, but a woman, any woman, is no good at all." The feminist bigots in the US equivalent of our own "Equal" Opportunities Commission successfully took him to court.

Some months ago I inflicted myself on a conference at the Unit for the Study of Government at Edinburgh University (only tame PC men are invited). There were about 90 women present, including Morag Alexander, head of the EOC Scotland, and Esther Brietenbach, adviser on women's issues to the Scottish Parliament. The conference was ostensibly about gender research, but to me it seemed to be all about creating more "jobs for the girls".

I suggested to Alexander and Brietenbach that they might research why boys are underachieving at school. This was not met with any enthusiasm. One of the two "token" men present, the EOC's David Perfect, flim-flammed and claimed that the EOC had supported some initiatives for boys. Challenged to name just one he couldn't.

Contrast this with the commission's aggressive approach to women's issues, and the millions spent on EOC-backed initiatives and other schemes to induce girls into engineering jobs they clearly do not want.

The classroom assistant job creation scheme appears to be a grotesque parody of the Holland project I described, giving boys just what they don't need - more women in schools.

Very few men have applied for the jobs, and the comparatively low pay has been cited as a reason. That misses the point of the scam, to create lots of part-time jobs for single mothers on benefit.

As a sorry footnote, I have volunteered three times to be an unpaid helper on my son's annual primary school trip. I managed to get on last year's trip, and despite being middle aged and balding, and therefore terminally uncool, I enjoyed myself tremendously - and, I flatter myself, the kids did too. I was the only man on the trip.

Surprise, surprise, this year all the helpers had been picked before I knew about it. They were all women.

I wrote to the headteacher asking her to ensure that I was included in next year's trip and urged her to encourage dads to volunteer. I received a fairly cool reply. Yet I strongly believe in her commitment to giving all her pupils the best possible education.

My sons' school, Bankhead primary in Glasgow, has a board at its entrance with photographs of 50-plus people employed there. Only the janitor is male. How can this inequality have escaped the EOC, one wonders.

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