Media outlets recently reported that China is hiring male teachers to combat what they see as the feminizing effects of too many female teachers. According to the New York Times:
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. In Hangzhou, in eastern China, educators have started a summer camp called West Point Boys, complete with taekwondo classes and the motto, “We bring out the men in boys.”
China’s approach is wise and much needed, both in Asia and the West. Many female teachers are doing a wonderful job, but schoolboys are in desperate need of male teachers. Boys are by nature more rambunctious, distracted, hyperactive, and physical than girls. This is obvious to anyone with rudimentary observation skills and access to a playground, but I saw it firsthand a few years ago when I was a teacher. Bluntly put, sometimes it takes a male teacher to handle male students.
Experts can conduct all the studies they want to and the government can hand out blue-ribbon panel guidelines on equality in schools, but all a person has to do to be faced with the difference between girls and boys in school is to simply spend a couple weeks—or even a day—as a teacher.
I still remember by first day teaching at a Catholic K-8 school in Maryland a few years ago. As I walked down the hall for the first time, I sensed a rushing to the windows as I moved past the classroom doors. The boys had heard that a new teacher was starting, and that he was a man. I would be the only male teacher in the school.
I found my classroom, and when the kids streamed in 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. They were ecstatic. A similar scene was described by Neil Lydon a few months ago in the British Telegraph:
The head teacher recently announced that a man would be joining the teaching staff next autumn. Hearing this, the boys celebrated as wildly as if they’d been given an extra week off school. They’re all assuming that, for the first time in the whole of their education since nursery, PE will at last be run by somebody who knows how to trap, chest and head a ball.
And here’s the thing: it doesn’t stop. Yes, the boys might lose the giddy charge of having a man at school. But they never stop wanting to talk to you, or listen to you, about sports, motorcycles, girls, science fiction books, whatever. One student used to intentionally sit at the front of the class just so he could pepper me with questions during study period. They reminded me of myself when I attended an all-boys Jesuit high school and my teachers were a wonderful cross-section of great men: boxers, artists, scholars, theologians. Our motto then was to become “men for others,” which is similar to the slogan in one of the new Chinese schools, “We bring out the men in boys.”
When I was teaching a high school class a few years ago, the topic of violence against women came up. The kids touched on sociology, sexism, psychology, and the role of drugs and alcohol in creating dangerous situations for women, and they began to theorize on what the government could do to help. I told them what had helped me: When I was a teenager my father said if I ever hit a woman I could say hello to the wall, because I was about to go through it. As I said this, I noticed a student sitting in the back, a jock who usually didn’t pay attention, suddenly look up. Our eyes met, and he nodded. In five minutes I had taught him something that a semester of feminist theory never would have.
In recent years sociologists and journalists have asked how America’s kids—the snowflake generation—have gotten so soft, weak, and easily offended. Much of the trouble, especially for boys, begins at school. Perhaps we could learn something from China’s experience and encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need.