The recent plan of Newington College to become co-educational has initiated an uproarious reaction from their old-boys as well as influential Head Masters of such schools. This ridiculous reaction is simply a response to girls being admitted into the exclusive masculine territory that once was Newington.
Their opposition to the inclusion of girls is not based on any research investigating the educational benefits of gender specific schools but is grounded in their belief that males particularly from their schools should lead society.
I understand there will be a white-hot reaction to this statement and, I confess I experienced a range of emotions from aversion to amusement when I read the Headmaster at Kings, Tony George’s opposition claiming the change was a capitulation to a “massive pile-on in the public sphere, and social media, attacking boys.” He went on to say that this acceptance of girls into that school is just neo-sexism, “boys are feeling blamed and -accused”. I’m not sure he knows what he is saying when he refers to neo-sexism to support his claim, that term reflects a condition where one upholds the parity of women while covertly denying that equity!
The claim that boys need to be boys loosely reflects the influence testosterone has on rough and tumble competitive behaviour. In these schools masculinity is celebrated, they are “a place for boys to grow into men, surrounded by their brothers”, certainly not their sisters.
Australia’s elite boys’ schools are blatantly fashioned on British schools such as Eton or Harrow and in the UK, these are the schools from where an inordinate number of industry and political leaders emerge; an implication that is not lost on the defenders of our elite Boys’ Schools. The King’s school brochure ‘heralds the fact that (it) was established to provide Australia with the next generation of leaders’. It is the unashamed opinion that leaders come from these masculine schools that is at the heart of this debate!
In simple terms our beliefs are the remembered connection between what we need and how we get that need met from our immediate environment. They are the expectations of what will happen for me when I act a certain way and when they do I’m reinforced as being ‘right’!
The formulation of our beliefs continue throughout life; from those infantile interactions with parents on until we become cynical old pensioners! The early part of this process is two-phased with the first ten years acquiring the basic human skills such as belonging, sharing, and articulating our needs to the outside world. This is the time a child’s sense of self is developed and reinforced.
The second phase, that coincides with the onset of puberty is that of becoming a productive, reproductive adult. These characteristics are at the heart of this debate! It is that period of time when our abilities become focused, we become ‘productive’ and we become driven to reproduce. The characteristics of these changes will reflect the environment in which they emerge.
The environment in these elite boys’ schools is undeniably one of privilege. For example King’s School has 17 sports fields, nine halls, a 50-metre pool, a 25-metre one that is heated set in 480 acres of space. It offers an unrivalled range of facilities that cater to every sporting requirement.
But more than the physical environment, which is important, is the attitude towards the rest of society. The King’s School brochure points out that it ‘was established to provide Australia with the next generation of leaders’ and their school garb, ‘while being the oldest military uniform still worn in Australia, is wonderfully symbolic of what it means to be a Kingsman – one who is willing to live a life of service to make an outstanding impact for the good of society and others’. The beliefs, developed on the productive side of their adolescence is one of leadership and this follows them into society where they have an expectation to lead!
The second element of their journey through the teenage years is their development of their reproductive beliefs and expectations. Unlike the physical and educational resources it is blatantly obvious that there is a deficit in the presence of that resource with which boys can form gendered relationships; girls! This absence of opportunity to naturally connect has led to a history of sexual blunders associated with these schools. In the early 20’s the boys from St Kevin’s College flaunted their inappropriate sexually explicit behaviour on public transport resulting in public outrage. This incident initiated conversations about harmful masculinity and what it is in our society that makes these young men feel entitled to speak with such vitriol about women.
More recently a former Kambala student, Chanel Contos created a petition amongst her private school girl cohort because she “was sick and tired of constantly hearing (her) friends’ experiences of sexual abuse”. This petition was signed by 2,300 people with 200 young women sharing their stories. Experiences of unwanted sex with older boys, being forced to perform oral sex, waking up in bed naked and multiple instances of abuse were common themes in the anonymous testimonies shared by victims. These stories echo so many reported in the highest levels of our society!
These problems have been acknowledged and efforts have been made to address them. King’s, for example teach their boys about consent through its Boys2Men program focusing on: respectful relationships with an emphasis on consent, porn, drugs and alcohol; its involvement in White Ribbon Day; and its recently-established The King’s Women’s Network is an effort to provide a curriculum that teaches respect for women.
These are intellectual activities addressing highly emotional issues, an approach that has little likelihood of success. However, it is believed these programs will skill the boys enough to, in the words of Tony George “kowtow to a female boss”, but he relies on the mums, sisters and female teachers to show “what it is to submit to a woman in authority”.
The fear that females might share a place in these elite boys schools is based on the faulty belief that men know better. Acceptance of others that differ in some way is a sign of a civilised society. The fact that these schools exclude girls, albeit from what would be an equal socio-economic cohort is a comment on their lack of civility!