Wanted: Testerone in the Classroom

TESTOSTERONE IN THE CLASSROOM

The Agenda, which aired October 22, was titled: “Wanted: Testosterone in the Classroom.” Steve Paikin hosts this current affairs program on TVO, and he asked if there should be more male teachers in our schools, specifically in the female dominated elementary panel. The main question under consideration: Do male teachers add something special, unique and important to the classroom? As the number of male teachers in the elementary panel has been declining in recent years, there is a concern that some students may never have contact with a male teacher during their formative years. To alleviate this shortage, some universities give preferential treatment to males applying to train as elementary teachers. This raises the question of whether men, especially those who are not from a disadvantaged social group, should benefit from affirmative action. This is a political issue, and it should be resolved. The Agenda generated a good discussion, but it did not answer this question.
The panel members presented different perspectives. It was suggested that male teachers provide a role models for boys, some of whom may be lacking a positive male role model in their personal lives. Presumably, this should promote learning. Another idea mentioned was that boys relate better to male teachers when developing basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. If true, this should be reflected in the literacy test results of boys in groups taught exclusively by male teachers. No one was able to provide substantive hard data to support either suggestion. The panellists generally agreed that dedication, skill and well developed teaching practices are more important than a teacher’s gender in determining student achievement. This seems to have obvious merit, and there is support in the research.
If males are to be offered preferential treatment when applying for teacher training, there should be compelling evidence that the potential benefits justify discriminating against other applicants. While it is desirable to have male representation in the elementary panel so that it is not perceived as a female-only occupation, it is difficult to imagine that affirmative action is necessary to achieve this objective. Surely some men would become elementary teachers, without the need for special consideration. Setting arbitrarily lower standards for male applicants interferes with the normal balance, as established by the laws of supply and demand.
The demands of political correctness may be doing a great deal more harm than good. This is true at the post-secondary level as well. While the numbers of men teaching the youngest age group is artificially boosted, there is political pressure to reduce the concentration of male professors at the highest levels. Former Harvard University President Larry Summers breached accepted norms of behaviour when he suggested that a shortage of women in the upper echelon of the scientific community might be related to innate ability. Although no one suggested that he had a personal agenda to keep women down, he was severely censured for his musings. It is acceptable to assert the common-sense belief that women more than men have a natural affinity for the nurturing and care of young children; however, even discussing the possibility that men might have an advantage at another level is prohibited by political correctness. At the same time, male elementary teachers are stigmatized by affirmative action.
While being careful not to suggest that men are generally superior to women, one author suggests that men tend more to the extremes of human traits, including extremes of intelligence. Roy F. Baumeister suggests that there are many more very dumb men than women, and only a few men and even fewer women who occupy the very highest levels of intellectual activity. He notes that a relatively few men occupy the highest positions in society and earn incomes which make them very wealthy. An offsetting and larger group of men exist almost as non-persons, filling the jails and living on the streets. Baumeister suggests that there are gender related traits which can account for these generalized differences.
If any of what he asserts is true, it is not linked to testosterone alone. As one of the panellists was quick to note, women have testosterone too, and the issue as posed by The Agenda was poorly stated. Fortunately, It is not necessary to understand the innate characteristics of men and women to demonstrate the negative impact of affirmative action. Lowering standards suggests a willingness to accept someone who is inferior. In the case of elementary teaching, it appears that men generally are simply not very interested. Perhaps men would be more interested if they were offered more pay and a greater certainty of promotion. This was the situation years ago, when a greater proportion of men chose elementary education as a career. Obviously, this is not an option today.
Anyone who wins admission in a competitive application process as a result of lower standards will be considered as inferior by the other winners, who may feel resentful. Lowering standards to coax men into elementary teaching will create a negative rather than a positive outcome. Children are quick to grasp subtle behavioural cues, and they will sense that their male teachers are considered as inferiors by the female staff. They instinctively know that men are not as innately nurturing as women. This would negate any benefits of male teachers as positive role models. This is the issue which should have been resolved on The Agenda.