Research corner

3rd October 2014 at 01:00

`Boys' anti-school culture? Narratives and school practices' by Jonsson, R Anthropology and Education Quarterly 453: 276-92, September 2014 (Wiley)

It is a trope of education that boys underachieve academically when compared with girls. But is this because boys are intrinsically more "anti-school"? Dr Rickard Jonsson, a senior lecturer in child and youth studies at Stockholm University in Sweden, took an anthropological approach to answering this question. He used as his springboard a comment from the Swedish minister for education, who alleged that independent learning could be contributing to disaffection among male students.

Jonsson carried out ethnographic studies in two Swedish secondary schools, with subjects described as "underachieving students in underachieving schools". He followed the pupils in two projects - one that took place in the academic year 2003-04 and the other between September 2007 and February 2008.

The results were inconclusive. From those visits, Jonsson selected four case studies highlighting how boys' anti-school culture can become a narrative within a school, as well as the ways in which this narrative can be subverted or contradicted. The answer to his original question - whether there is more disaffection among male students - appears to be "maybe".

He reflects on the effect his observations may have had on students, writing: "Retrospectively, I sometimes felt that my presence served to accentuate an anti-school culture narrative, as if the boys had an idea of what kind of stories I was trying to collect in my role as `researcher'."

Although he shies away from evaluating boys as a homogeneous group, Jonsson does point out that there are certain "types" of boys who are at risk of failing academically, in particular those "categorised as working-class or ethnic `other' ".

He suggests further research should take place into the linguistic patterns that are used when talking to male students, as well as the language used by boys when opposing teachers' instructions or sanctions.

Sarah Cunnane

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