A Challenge for Educators
It's a scene found on most school playgrounds. A boy, undersized for his age, is shoved to the ground as he jostles for a loose basketball. A fellow grade six student turns to a classmate and says, "It's like the woods; only the strongest survive," and he dribbles away eager to continue the game.
In that 11-year-old's analysis of an abusive incident is a telling clue that boys are socialized from a very young age to be tough, in control and aggressive. Popular Western culture reinforces this ethic, as one comic book ad illustrates:
"Pick A Fight After School--After a hard day at school, have you ever just wanted to go home and break a few heads, destroy a couple of cities? Or just blow up the entire universe? Of course you have. And now you can without getting grounded. Just plug in any of these four smash arcade hits... and get ready for the fight of your life."
What influences the minds of children today is overwhelming. By the end of grade 12, students will watch, on average, 22 hours of television per week, which includes a total of 18,000 violent deaths. On the basis of time alone (leaving aside enjoyment and stimulation) the entertainment industry is the first curriculum in young peoples' lives. It's a fantasy world where the powerful survive and the heroes are Terminator and GI Joe.
As we look at these and other dominant influences (video games, films, etc.) it should come as no surprise to hear that children are bringing guns to school, that swarming gangs are on the rise, and that the abuse of teachers is increasing. Society and its primary professional mentors--teachers--must look for more than simply toughening up youth-related laws. By looking at how the practice of being male is actually taught, and why men commit the great majority of violent acts in society, only then can we begin to teach young people the skills they need to lead healthy, violence-free lives.
When there is violence in male-female relationships sexism is inextricably linked, as anyone who works with battered women knows. If sexism is learned and violence is one manifestation of it, then it is our responsibility to infuse our institutes of learning--our schools--with an understanding of the issues that will foster the development of healthy attitudes in young people.
When one Grade nine student complained to the duty teacher about being assaulted in the school yard the teacher responded, "You're a big guy, why don't you stand up for yourself?" The student stated simply, "I don't fight."
The teacher promptly sent him back out to tell his tormentors to come in. A half hour later, the victimized student was in the washroom cleaning up the blood from a punch in the nose.
Stories like this may be difficult to hear, and yet we can focus on the teachable moment. As in all social change movements, from the successful Teens Against Drunk Driving programs to anti-racism initiatives, the first step towards change is to expose the deep roots of the issue.
All of us, both adult and youth, need to work together to challenge the deeply ingrained gender stereotypes that foster unhealthy attitudes: tough and aggressive for boys; passive and beauty-bound for girls. Then and only then can we learn, not the law of the jungle where only the strongest survive, but the choices needed to build healthy relationships based on cooperation and trust where everyone thrives.
- Curriculum Selected for Three-Year Evaluation
Update February 1997
"Our research assistants are excited and challenged by what is going on in the classroom, and we are very pleased with the response we're getting from school administrators and teachers."
- A Challenge for Educators
"On the basis of time alone...the entertainment industry is the first curriculum in young peoples' lives."
- The Making of this Curriculum
"We began to look for proactive ways to take responsibility for male violence, and to contribute towards the evolution of a violence free society."
- In Ontario, Gender Analysis is Key
"HRC looks at stereotyping of both men and women as victims of socialization. It's not one half of the population that's at fault."
- Educating for Change
Recommended Materials on Violence Against Women and Children.
- Gender Reactions Differ in B.C.
"From her vantage point, Hill has noticed different gender-based reactions to some of the material she's presented."
- Public Health Nurse Uses Healthy Relationships Curriculum
"I'm going to start a project in junior high schools on awareness, violence, and bullying..."
- Multiple Applications in Edmonton
"This material provides a way to stimulate discussion and to develop strategies for intergenerational connections."
- Breaking New Ground With Youth Corrections Programming
"It's been a real plus for us to be able to go to something that's already out there, and to be able to use it as a source of strength."
- Students Promote Zero Tolerance for Violence
"The $64,000 question remains: Is the curriculum actually making a difference in the students' attitudes and behaviours? MacNeil says it is."
- Going to the Heart of the Matter in Dade County, Florida
"The reason your curriculum is so good is because it touches the soul. It goes to the heart of the matter. It is not superficial."
- A Foundation for Other Programs
"Sometimes Healthy Relationships is not used overtly in program delivery. Instead, it's used behind the scenes."
- Children's Aid Uses Healthy Relationships
"The boys have had problems in relation to sexuality...We have found (HRC) a very useful reference and resource."
- Curriculum Supplement: Gender Justice
Some suggestions which expand this unit of the Grade 9 curriculum.
- Organizations that have ordered Healthy Relationships
Update December 1997
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