I was already a fan of the BBC’s wunder-choirmaster Gareth Malone, having marvelled at the wondrous effects his idealism, enthusiasm and faith in the healing powers of music have had on troubled and uninspired teenagers in the past.
o it was with a leaping heart that I learned he was to turn his attention to a national social problem which is increasingly threatening the future of many of our sons — the growing literacy gap between boys and girls.
“Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.”
Not the words of Supernanny or even the Minister of Education, but of that enlightened old rascal, Plato, around 430BC.
The problem of dealing with the instincts and wills of young boys has been acknowledged for rather a long time — but it’s only in recent years that society has all but given up on them as a species altogether.
For any of us with boys to raise, the attitudes and opportunities our kids are growing up around in the UK today is seriously worrying.
As Malone’s new series The Extraordinary School for Boys has demonstrated, UK primary schools are arranged around the typical needs and capabilities of girls.
The average primary school has an almost entirely female staff, and the classroom has become a place where women organise lessons according to the common characteristics of their younger selves.
This is no surprise — young girls are generally more emotionally intelligent than their male counterparts, and are able to concentrate quietly for longer periods of time.
Boys enjoy chaos and risk, they have shorter attention spans, and are often literally unable to stop moving, or to keep their voices below a bellow.
Co-ordinating the school day around the natural inclinations of young boys would be extremely challenging, and utterly exhausting. And so, we have chosen as a society to demand that they behave like little girls, and if they can’t, to ignore them, threaten them with punishment, or sideline them altogether.
This attitude has long been endemic in schools but what really scares me is that I now see it in numerous facets of society.
When my toddler daughter chatted and giggled alongside me in coffee shops, strangers caught my eye and smiled.
When my three-year-old son babbles away — he’s louder, and more prone to pretending to be a lion or a tractor — people roll their eyes at each other, tut or move away.
When my daughter ran around soft-play areas with her friends squealing with excitement, no-one batted an eyelid.
When my son leads his procession of pals — or ‘racing cars’ — in circles, he’s usually told by a facilitator, in a strict, disapproving voice, that he must stop.
Of course it gets worse when boys get older — there is no breed so openly treated with suspicion and disapproval as the teenage boy.
Every day I watch the bus fill up until every spare seat — except those next to teenage boys — is taken.
In honour of my sunny-natured, funny, loveable son, I now make a point of choosing those seats first myself. I have yet to be stabbed, but I have had a few good conversations about music, films and football.
In a society where adolescent male suicides outnumber female ones three to one, it’s time we all really thought about how to make our young boys feel loved and valued.
Wouldn’t it be great if Gareth Malone’s heroic endeavours were the beginning of something truly transformative?