This comment was from Alastair on the post “How Could We Possibly Forget About the Boys?“
It is important to recognize that this should not just be a debate about catering for all children within our education system: it should also be a debate about whether we have an education system that can cater for, nurture, and produce some of the intellectual traits that have proved to be some of the most valuable over the course of human history.
The feminized education system that many countries have been moving towards values a particular set of traits: cooperation, collaboration, quietness, sedentariness, empathy, equality, non-competitiveness, conformity, communal-focus, inclusivity, affirmation, inoffensiveness, sensitivity, non-confrontation, a downplaying of physicality, and an orientation to grades and tests. All traits that don’t meet this model tend to be stigmatized.
The ideal student in the system described above is the high-functioning conformist, the student who is totally driven by and oriented towards the system’s expectations. Such a student constantly seeks affirmation from the rewards and incentives offered by the system, and direction from the instructions and prohibitions presented by it. Such a student will ace any test with which the system presents them.
However, such students often fail to excel in the real world and even in the advanced academic world. There is a fairly simple reason for this: the traits of leadership and genius are quite distinct from the traits of conformity, the traits that our education systems are often geared towards. The traits of leadership and genius are traits such as an internalized confidence that does not depend upon external affirmation, originality, agonism, bloody-mindedness, independence of thought and spirit, creativity, inner drive, assertiveness, the mastery of one’s own feelings, a thick skin, competitiveness, nerve, a high tolerance for pain and discomfort, both your own and of others, a willingness to offend, initiative, imagination, and force of will. Look throughout history, and it is people with such traits who stand out from the crowd. The conformists are effective servants of the system, but they are not the innovators, pioneers, and leaders.
This is not to say that communally-oriented and more conformist thinkers don’t have their particular strengths over more agentic and independent thinkers, but there are good reasons why agentic and independent thinkers can be especially important to the development of any dynamic society.
In discriminating in favour of traits traditionally associated with females, and against the traits of agentic and independent thought more traditionally associated with males, our society lets one of its most important intellectual muscles atrophy. Boys and girls who are naturally independent thinkers do not find their traits fostered by our system and many will feel alienated and may disengage. Those who stick with it can end up being the high achievers at the top end, where independent thought and leadership traits can come into their own. However, there are significant casualties along the way.
I believe that we need to reharness these traits for our society’s good. We should produce an education system that values disputation and competition, develops thick skins, teaches children to fight their intellectual corner, to think independently, to argue and debate, to explore off the beaten path, to challenge and be challenged, to have the nerve to be original and nonconformist and the wit and intellect to defend such originality, to master their emotions, to find confidence and conviction within that means that they need not depend on external affirmation and direction, to earn respect, to be assertive, inventive, and persistent.
The weak and conformist minds created by our education system also threaten our freedom as a society. People on all sides today are constantly playing the ‘I’m offended’ game, in a manner that shuts down important debates and conversations, in large part because they never learned to control their feelings and argue for their beliefs. Constantly affirmed and directed by the system that nurtured them, they never learned how to deal with opposition, beyond running away in tears or name-calling. Thin-skinned people who have never been taught how to stand up to challenge and debate produce a society where public discourse and free speech have to be dramatically curtailed. Persons who have been trained to be conformists, hooked on the directions and affirmations of the systems to which they belong produce a society without nerve, but with a surplus of entitlement and resentment. If we want to create a society with a spirit of innovation, independence, freedom of speech and expression, vigorous but non-reactive public discourse, and decisive and effective leadership, we really need to start valuing other sets of traits in our education system.
Perhaps, just perhaps, such a change would benefit boys too.