Teaching ‘manhood’ at school

Against a backdrop of role models, Ernest Jenkins III teaches a class at Oakland High School called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image.” Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Hoping to lift achievement for black male students, Oakland (California) schools have hired black male teachers to teach African-American history and culture in what’s called the Manhood Development Project, reports Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times.

“The No. 1 strategy to reduce discipline issues is engaged instruction,”  says Christopher P. Chatmon, who runs the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few students in his Manhood Development class with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few Manhood Development students growing up with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Many students have grown up without a father or male role model. Students form strong relationships with teachers and the program also brings in black male professionals and college advisers.

Chatmon’s office compiles an honor roll of black students with a 3.0 average or better. Three years ago, only 16 percent were male. That’s risen to 25 percent.

China is looking for male teachers to teach manhood, reports Javier C. Hernnandez, also in the New York Times.

Lin Wei, 27, a male sixth-grade teacher in Fuzhou, tells stories about manly warlords and soldiers. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”

Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.

In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics.

The motto of West Point Boys, an all-male summer camp in Hangzhou, in eastern China, is: “We bring out the men in boys.”

When Mark Judge was hired as the only male teacher at a Catholic K-8 school, the boys were ecstatic, he writes on Acculturated.

. . . the boys literally formed a circle around me and started jumping up and down. There were requests to play football, questions about cars, inquiries into my favorite baseball player, light punches (from them) on my shoulder.

The U.S. should “encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need,” he concludes.

Becoming a teacher and a mentor

Schools need male Hispanic teachers to serve as role models, Jose Garza’s mentor told him more than 15 years ago. A charter school teacher, Garza is now a mentor to new teachers at Partnership to Uplift Communities Schools (PUC) in Los Angeles.

District drops preference for “non-Christian” teachers

When hiring teachers, “special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith,” reads the teachers’ union contract in Ferndale, Michigan. Earlier in the contract, however, a clause bans discrimination based on religion, notes Michigan Capitol Confidential.
The “non-Christian” language is “antiquated” and will be deleted, said a spokeswoman for Ferndale Public Schools. “The district does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion or other related issues,” she said.

Apparently, the language was added in the late ’70s. My guess is that someone noticed an increase in Muslim students and thought it would be nice to hire some Muslim teachers. But are Asian-American teachers underrepresented relative to the number of Asian-American students? I doubt it. And I’m sure there are plenty of female teachers in Ferndale. Why not “special consideration” for men?

It’s not clear that students learn more from a teacher of the same race, ethnicity or religion. But I’d have no problem with a school district that gave special consideration to applicants from the students’ neighborhoods and cultures. Should that kind of discrimination be OK?

Title IX for boys

Stereotyped as troublemakers, boys do worse in school than girls and are less likely to go on to college, writes Glenn Harland Reynolds in Title IX for our boys in USA Today.

Girls are quieter, more orderly, and have better handwriting. The boys get disciplined more, suspended more and are turned off of education earlier.

Female teachers also give boys lower grades, according to research in Britain. . . . More and more, it’s looking like schools are a hostile environment for boys.

Hiring more male elementary teachers would help, writes William Gormley, a professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “Boys perform better when they have a male teacher, and girls perform better when they have a female teacher,” according to Stanford Professor Thomas Dee.

Yet our K-12 teachers are overwhelmingly female — only 2% of pre-K and kindergarten teachers are male and only 18% of elementary and middle-school teachers are.

. . . If schoolteachers were overwhelmingly male and girls were suffering as a result, there would be a national outcry and Title IX-style gender equity legislation would be touted. Why should we do less when boys are the ones suffering?

Many boys — and girls — are growing up without a father in the home.


‘Hands up and step away from the child’

As a second-grade teacher in New York City, Eli Kaplan was told never to hug a child, he writes for the Good Men Project. If a child hugs a male teacher, he’s supposed to put his hands up in the air to avoid touching the student. “Essentially, if a student gave me a hug, I was supposed to act like I was getting arrested.”

Female teachers can hug without fear, but males are presumed guilty of pedophilia till proven innocent, Kaplan writes.

To avoid all complications, I was taught to show no affection at all (other than words of encouragement, and the occasional smile or high-five).

Kaplan ignored the advice and “freely gave out and accepted hugs.”

. . . our society perpetuates the idea that an appropriate male should be cold and stiff (not that kind of stiff) around young, impressionable, and fragile children. To be a man who is too warm, affectionate, or loving, is un-male, strange, and suspicious.

The Jerry Sandusky scandal is going to make it even harder for male teachers to express affection for students without fear they’ll be accused of misconduct.


Boys can learn without male teachers

To help boys succeed, elementary schools are trying to hire more male teachers, writes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

That’s not the strategy used by schools that do a good job of educating boys, writes Richard Whitmire, now blogging on Why Boys Fail in Education Week.  In his new book, also Why Boys Fail, he profiles a Delaware elementary school and a KIPP charter school in Washington DC that educate low-income minority boys.

Neither school paid much attention to the gender of the teachers. Rather, they had teaching staffs infused with a sports fanatic-like devotion to ensuring no child was just passed along without learning what needed to be learned.

Reading is being taught at earlier ages. Whitmire thinks teachers are passing boys along with poor reading skills, telling parents the boys will catch up. But some never do.

My travels suggest that rethinking how to teach boys literacy skills in the very early grades would be a far more effective remedy than vacuuming up more male teachers.

Male teachers “can make a character-building difference” in urban schools, he adds.

Whitmire’s book is out next week. While you’re ordering a copy, stock up on my book. (If you want an autographed copy of the hardcover, e-mail me at joanne at joannejacobs dot com.)