Education Opinion

Boys Town

By Nancy Flanagan — August 11, 2011 3 min read
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As a middle school band teacher, I frequently had guest clinicians visit my classroom to work with my adolescent musicians. A college band director who was coaching my students once expressed surprise at the number of boys in my band classes. He noted that most middle school bands were about 2 to 1/girls to boys--but my classes flipped that ratio. He asked what I did to attract so many boys into the band program. Honestly, I had no clue. But that ratio of boys to girls was pretty consistent, year to year.

I relay this information to assure you that I like teaching boys (and evidently, they liked taking my class)--and I like working with male colleagues. I once overheard two moms in the bleachers at a 7th grade basketball game agree that I had a “long fuse” and tolerated Stupid Teen Tricks better than most middle school teachers.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about why there are more men running Ed Opinion World--and what impact that has on Stupid Policy Tricks.

Last month, I co-presented a blogging workshop at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ conference in Washington, D.C. with bloggers Daniela Robles (Stories from School AZ), David Cohen (InterACT) and Anthony Cody (Living in Dialogue). In planning the session, the men were focused on sharing tips with would-be teacher-bloggers on how to build traffic--how to elevate and promote one’s voice and opinion. The women were more focused on why teachers should blog--compelling reasons for teacher advocacy and leadership--than how to be more visible.

It was an interesting contrast and discussion topic between the four bloggers. Upwards of 80% of the teacher workforce--and perhaps 85% of NBCTs--are female, but education bloggers (especially the most prominent bloggers) are overwhelmingly male, by a factor of approximately two to one. Female teacher bloggers tend to focus on issues of practice: what happens in their classrooms or schools, wondering about the impact of policies on their students. Male bloggers are more interested in dissecting those policies, calling out policy-makers and taking action as advocates.

There were 30 participants in the NBPTS blogger workshop. Two of them were men.

All generalizations, of course. But it’s easy enough to gather anecdotal evidence that men read and respond primarily to other men--and that men are heavily predominant in writing about leadership, policy and advocacy. At Education Week Teacher division, the opinion blogs are evenly split between men and women (and welcome to new Teacher blogger Marilyn Rhames!)--but bloggers at the main Education Week site are overwhelmingly male, especially on group sites like LeaderTalk and Futures of School Reform.

Generalizing further, and simply looking at Ed Week’s blog titles, one might speculate that women bridge differences, seek a place at the table, whisper about books and unwrap the gifted. Men--the only ones with the word “leading” in their blog titles, incidentally--are straight up, checking reality, looking at the future, evaluating performance and writing about why boys fail.

If you looked at the National Education Policy Center’s best monthly blogs this year, you’d think that there are only two women in the whole blogosphere--principal Carol Corbett Burris and Diane Ravitch--writing about policy.

Do we hold men and women differently accountable for their ideas and opinions? Does writing about policy confer more economic and social power than writing about working with children?

The men that I ask about this get a little defensive. They mention women whose work they respect and admire. Most often, they reference Diane Ravitch, whose work has become so well-known that she transcends gender--and who has acquired a completely undeserved set of inarticulately rabid (male) foes as a result of her fearless advocacy for public education.

Why should policy-makers who want to craft effective campaigns and levers to improve schools pay attention to the thoughts of women? Here are four good reasons, from Cheryl Yeoh of CityPockets:
• Women have higher social sensitivity and empathy
• Women can balance silent power struggles among men (been there...)
• Women are more detail-oriented and comprehensive
• Women are probably already using your product

It’s that last bullet that convinced me Yeoh was right. Why should we turn to women for solutions about teaching, learning, school organization and successful policy?

Because women are the ones doing the work.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.