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There are many theories of why boys and girls differ in their educational outcomes. These
include: biological or brain differences; differences of maturation; differences in attitudes to
learning and school; boys’ strong peer identification which creates alienation from academic
achievement; the structure and content of curriculum and assessment. This chapter reviews
some of this evidence.
Marxism is all about class inequality and class differences. We live in a capitalist society – property is privately owned and everything is given a monetary value. Marxists argue that the education system is not meritocratic – achievement can depend on your class, gender or ethnicity.
Theorist for example Bernard Coard (1971) did his research on boys achievement based on their ethnic background and agreed with Marxist and talked about the stating that the education system made black pupils ‘educationally subnormal’. Schools gave black pupils low self-esteem. The content of school books favours white culture. Ethnic minority pupils are racially abused by other pupils.
Cecile Wright (1992) found that black boys were more likely to be blamed for classroom disruption and were punished more severely than white or Asian pupils. Teachers lacked an understanding of ethnic minority cultures and often marginalised these pupils despite sometimes having good intentions.
l Writers such as Susan Faludi suggested that there was evidence in the mass media of a growing anti-feminist “backlash” in which it was argued that anti-discrimination and equal opportunities had now gone so far that it was now males who were more likely than females to experience discrimination.
l In relation to education it was argued that specifically female friendly education policies had become one of the prime causes of male relative educational underachievement.
l Against this Susan Faludi herself argues that women clearly continue to face various forms of gender discrimination .
A major challenge to the Marxist theory of education comes from Functionalists who believe that the education system is based on a meritocracy. Durkheim and Parsons argue that those who are the most talented and hardworking will be identified by the education system and rewarded with qualifications. This will enable them to access high positions in society. Functionalists believe that this will happen no matter what your class position is.
According to this theory, schools serve the perceived needs of a social order that focuses on rationality, meritocracy and democracy. The theory advances that schools are a fair and efficient mechanism for screening individual skills so that, based on merit, only the most capable assume the most responsible roles.
According to this theory, the achievement gap is thus a normal occurrence of the education system and not a factor of differences in aspects such as, gender, and race. Since the theory envisages a meritocracy-based system and that education results in social equality (Kretchmar, 2008), the achievement gap is thus indicative of the capabilities of the participants. Accordingly, the performance in the test scores reflects the actual capabilities of the individuals thus an accurate reflection of the responsibilities that such individuals should assume in society. The poor performance in the test scores, as per the functionalist approach, is thus a result of the individuals’ inability to perform better rather than a disadvantage conferred by the system that affects such individuals’ performance.
Studies suggest teachers’ expectations are not consistently
differentiated by gender. ’Teachers do treat boys and girls differently in
the classroom, but student behavioral patterns drive some of these
differences’ Black (2007).
The ideology behind laddish behavior is that it would be deemed ‘uncool’ to work hard in school, and therefore for a student to do so, it would result in them being unpopular. As peer acceptance is an important thing for youths in school, many working class boys would participate in this behavior and form an anti-school subculture. That through the rejection of the middle class values of school, the boys seek recognition and respect through ulterior ways. This conflict between educational achievement and social acceptance can be argued as too much for some boys, and therefore the pressure to conform outweighs the perceived benefits of education and they then underachieve academically
An interactionist’s perspective is the self-fulfilling prophecy theory which argues that predictions made by teachers will tend to make themselves come true. The teacher defines or labels the pupil in a particular way. This teacher’s interaction with pupils will be informed by their labelling of the pupils, and the pupils may respond accordingly, verifying the label and fulfilling the prophecy
Mitsos and Browne have an interactionists approach to the underachievement of boys. They suggest that teachers are less strict with boys and allow them to waste time, which leads to their underachievement.
“A label is a the major identifying characteristic of a person” (Taylor, P, 1996) if a person is labelled lazy even if he do something clever he would still be judged in terms of his label and others will count that as unusual, which as a result this effect on their educational career.
Moreover meritocratic system is beneficial because it also serves the needs of individuals by giving them the equal chance of education which allows all to achieve due to their talent and ability with no discrimination based on their class, gender, background and ethnicity. Is the functionalists’ perspective on education system good enough? Yes because meritocratic way of educating children provides them with specific skills needed to help them to become consensual members of society and also maintain the interest of the individuals who receives good education and equal opportunity so they can do well as their peers, So finally could be suggested that “Both the winners (high achievers) and the losers (the low achievers) will see the system just fair” (Harlambos, H 1995).
Meritocracy– Davis and Moore (functionalists) said as we know live in a meritocratic society the education system becomes the best mechanism for selecting the right people for the right jobs – role allocation. Meritocracy is the notion that people should and are duly awarded by society for their hard work and efforts. Those that work hard will and can achieve those that choose not to, achieve their due rewards.
Mitsos and Browne (1998) believe that boys are under-achieving in education, although they also believe girls are disadvantaged.
The evidence of boys` under-achievement, according to Mitsos and Browne, is that: o Girls do better than boys in every stage of National Curriculum SAT [Standard Assessment Tests] results in English, maths and science, and they are now more successful than boys at every level in CCSE, outperforming boys in every major subject ... except physics.
There are a range of reasons why boys are underachieving compared to girls:
1. External factors (outside-school)
Boys‟ poorer literacy skills The decline of „traditional‟ male jobs Unrealistic expectations
2. Internal factors (inside-school)
The feminisation of education Teacher interaction „Laddish‟ subcultures
Slower Male Educational Improvement : ”Backlash” Arguments
An explanation of why boys are underachieving in the UK.
Comparing these three perspective that we viewed seems to be that they are significantly different specially between Marxists and functionalists because functionalists views see education playing a positive role in the society but the Marxists see education playing a negative role. And then we find functionalists views that education transmit the norms and values from one generation to another however Marxists believes that capitalists want to transmit the ideology that capitalism is good and fair and then again Marxists argue that education is not based on merit but it is based on social backgrounds, they believe that a person with a high class background is more likely to attend higher qualification or higher occupations, as if we consider interactionalists theory so we find their views quite different although their views are ideal in some issues with functionalists because they both see education as a benefit for the society in addition interactionsts theory about underachievement says that individuals could not construct their personalities also it describes the other main reasons as a fulfilling prophecy and labelling. However functionalists believe on meritocracy and equal opportunity of education so if we consider it could be proposed that Marxists are more likely to blame society however functionalists and interactionists are not, as a result of the discussion it could be argued that the theories are significantly different.
To conclude Functionalist and Marxist views on the role of education share some similarities like they both see education as an influence on students to conform to society’s values and norms. And they both have different views on education, functionalists believe education provides a meritocracy among classes whereas Marxists believe there is no meritocracy.
I think Functionalism tries to create a more stable view of education, that it can create meritocracy and that education serves the needs of the social system by teaching shared norms and values to the new generations, leading to social harmony. Whereas Marxism sees that capitalism and the ruling class use education to make others conform to how they want society to be, and creating obedient members of society to conform to the ruling class ideology and therefore helping a capitalist society survive.
In conclusion, there is evidence to support the Marxist claim that the education system reproduces social classes, as the majority of working class school children today do not experience great social mobility. However, there are clear examples of members of the working class being successful and accessing higher positions. Also you could argue that it is very difficult to discriminate when all pupils must be taught the same National Curriculum. With the decline in manual jobs in society you could argue that the correspondence between education and work is not as clear as it was.
John Abraham researched teachers’ perceptions of the typical boy and typical girl. He found that teachers viewed boys as much more likely to be disruptive. The typical girl was polite and hard working. Boys seemed more likely to attract negative labels
u Harris (1993) would state that boys are;
u Suffering from low self-esteem and poor motivation
u Less willing to tackle difficulties when understanding work
u Less likely to work hard and are easily distracted
u Less organised – especially on coursework. Girls tend to excel in this area
Girls’ conforming to gender stereotypes are thought to influence girls’
underperformance especially in male gendered subjects such as maths
and science. ‘Boys have been found to have more interactions of all
types with teachers, including being called on, receiving more complex
questions and accorded more and different criticism, whereas girls are
more often rewarded for quiet and obedient behaviour‘ (Black, 2007).
Some evidence suggests that, primarily, criticism is directed towards girls
because of a lack of ability and towards boys for lack of effort or poor
Marxist Theory of Education
Marxism is all about class inequality and class differences.
We live in a capitalist society – property is privately owned and everything is given a monetary value.
In the education system Marxists argue that schools pass on the values of this ruling elite. Pupils are taught to conform and accept authority so that when they leave they become good workers and do not question the power of the ruling elite.
Marxists argue that the education system is not meritocratic – achievement can depend on your class, gender or ethnicity.
In 1999 OFSTED published a very critical report saying that the education system was institutionally racist – its policies and practices were discriminating against ethnic minorities.
The Swann Report had earlier in 1986 concluded that the education system was biased in favour of a white, Christian, English view of society alienating ethnic minorities.
Bernard Coard (1971) argued that the education system made black pupils ‘educationally subnormal’. Schools gave black pupils low self-esteem. The content of school books favours white culture. Ethnic minority pupils are racially abused by other pupils.
factor of why boys underachieve would be laddish behavior. The ideology behind laddish behavior is that it would be deemed ‘uncool’ to work hard in school, and therefore for a student to do so, it would result in them being unpopular. As peer acceptance is an important thing for youths in school, many working class boys would participate in this behavior and form an anti-school subculture. That through the rejection of the middle class values of school, the boys seek recognition and respect through ulterior ways. This conflict between educational achievement and social acceptance can be argued as too much for some boys, and therefore the pressure to conform outweighs the perceived benefits of education and they then underachieve academically
An important and quite recent study was carried out by Mitsos and Browne.
Mitsos and Browne argued that girls are now doing better because:
Mitsos and Browne say that boys are underachieving because:
Mitsos and Browne have an interactionists approach to the underachievement of boys. They suggest that teachers are less strict with boys and allow them to waste time, which leads to their underachievement. If boys are disruptive in class, it can result in their exclusion in lessons, and burden their education, as it would disadvantage them and other members of the class. Also, males overestimate themselves, where as females underestimate themselves. This means that while girls work extra hard to try and get themselves to the same level as the rest of the class, the males don’t feel they need to, and therefore won’t work as hard as the females, which may react in them doing badly or not reaching their full potential. The culture of masculinity also differs from that of femininity in a big way, with males, it is seen as uncool to study, and most boys wish to appear macho in front of their friends. This means that most won’t study, because they wish to achieve the “macho” look. However with females, in most cases, it is not seen as a big deal, and they are more likely to support each other in regarding to school. Also, the leisure activities boys take part in are less conducive to educational achievement.
Some sociologists argue that the growth of laddish subcultures has contributed to boys underachievement. Mac and Ghaill examines the relationship between schooling, work, masculinity and sexuality. He identifies a particular pupil subculture, the macho lads; which could help to explain why some boys underachieve in education. Jackson found that laddish behaviour was based on the idea that it is uncool to work hard at school. She found that boys based their laddish behaviour on the dominant view of masculinity – they acted tough, messed around, disrupted lessons and saw school work as feminine.
Weiner, Arnot and David (1997) criticise this theory and have their own theory that the media have created a misleading moral panic which exaggerated and distorts the extent and nature of any problem. They argue that although the media are also interested in the underachievement of white, middle-class boys, they see black and working-class underachievement as a particular problem because it is likely to lead to unqualified, unemployable black and working-class men turning to crime.
Theoretical Perspectives on Achievement Gap
Structural functionalism views society and its institutions to be comprised of interdependent units that work together to create a whole unit (Kretchmar, 2008). Durkheim introduced the structural-functionalism theory to explain the role of schools in society arguing that schools play an important role of imparting values to students; such values, according to Durkheim are important for the establishment of a stable society (Hallinan, 2000). According to this theory, schools serve the perceived needs of a social order that focuses on rationality, meritocracy and democracy. The theory advances that schools are a fair and efficient mechanism for screening individual skills so that, based on merit, only the most capable assume the most responsible roles.
A criticism of the structural-functionalism explanation of the achievement gap however arises with the assumption of equality of opportunity. For a meritocracy system to function effectively, its participants need to have equal opportunity to demonstrate their worth. If such an opportunity is not availed to all participants, then society cannot verify the claim that the most capable individuals occupy the most responsible roles. In the American society, such equality of opportunity is affected by the actions of the elite and professional middle class to avert downward social mobility of their children. For instance, the elite and professional middle classes ensure that the children occupy private schools and elite public schools that have better resources such as more competent teachers (McKinsey & Company, 2009; Jencks & Phillips, 1998). Studies indicating that the SES status of the student affects ones college graduation with higher-status students having higher graduation rates (McKinsey & Company, 2009), challenge the equal opportunity basis of the functionalist approach. Additionally, the outcomes of equivalent achievement may not be equal across all the participants with such equivalent achievement (Jencks & Phillips, 1998). Accordingly, it would appear that the system, though a merit-based one, would reward some people more than others for an equivalent level of achievement. Due to such weaknesses of the functionalist approach, conflict theories have arisen to offer a contrasting opinion of the achievement gap