I recently finished my MA in Education at the University of Manchester, writing a dissertation entitled “Lads, Lads, Lads!”: The Impact of ‘Laddishness’ on Asian Muslim Males’ Perceptions of Education. My previous school was an all-boys school and the majority of these students were Muslim students of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage and researching the dissertation allowed me to engage with a number of these students in a way that I hadn’t before.
The dissertation was something of a labour of love- I was fortunate enough to choose a subject that I was genuinely interested in and passionate about and there was enough literature available to write a rigorous academic piece but there did exist lacunae that enabled me to make some original insights.
This was not a piece of action research and in all honesty, it has only had a very limited impact upon my classroom practice. However, if you are considering embarking upon a course requiring a dissertation or if you given the opportunity to write such a piece of work in the future, I implore you to grab it by both hands. The dissertation was an opportunity to step back from the immediacy of the classroom environment and take a macro-level view of a topic that I am passionate about- education (and in particular the education of underprivileged students). It exposed me to academic debates that I didn’t even know existed yet was relevant to the sorts of behaviour I saw everyday and improved my writing no-end. It’s also very satisfying to know that I have made some original insights into this area of academia, no matter how small.
Those of you not interested in the specific content of my dissertation- stop reading now! For the real nerds however….
The abstract is below:
“Laddishness’ is one explanation often given for the underperformance of males relative to females in secondary education. However, the intersection between ’laddishness’ and ethnicity, particularly Asian Muslim ethnicity, has received a relatively little attention. This dissertation begins by examining the various constructions of ‘laddishness’, the mechanisms through which it operates, and considers how ‘laddishness’ may impact upon academic achievement. Four detailed pen-portraits of Asian Muslim boys at a single-sex school in Manchester are constructed and analysed. The portraits indicate that the influence of ‘laddishness’ permeates the lives of these students to a lesser extent than the literature suggests. In particular the students did not show many of the ‘hypermasculine’ traits one might expect, nor did the students appear to reject many of the characteristics and behaviours required to succeed in education. A range of possible reasons are discussed for this that consider culture, aspirations, the role of the school and a reaction to perceived or actual institutional racism in the higher education and employment markets. “
‘Laddishness’ is a contested concept but broadly, those that claim that ‘laddishness’ is a cause of male underachievement state that there is some, fairly homogenous, concept of masculinity that is adopted by a number of young males that is antithetical to the ethos required to succeed at school. General features of ‘laddishness’ identified in the literature include belonging to a hedonistic peer group, an interest (and even a fixation upon) stereotypically ‘masculine’ pastimes including sport and a focus on ‘having a laugh’ and ‘hardness’. There is also a consensus that ‘laddishness’ includes the rejection of authority and a dislike of anything overtly feminine.
There are two broad schools of thoughts on how exactly ‘laddishness’ actually impacts upon schooling. Sociological views suggest that education is antithetical to the hegemony of ‘laddishness’ many male students are immersed in and thus results in poor class behaviour and low achievement. Socio-psychological theories however suggest that ‘laddish’ behaviour results from students preserving their self-worth. For instance students may misbehave so that if a poor grade is achieved they can attribute it to their misbehaviour rather than a lack of ability. Of course if they do achieve a good grade, they have achieved this ‘effortlessly’.
The overall picture present in my portraits did not reflect what some the popular or academic literature suggested regarding ‘laddishness’ as an example of a crisis in masculinity and as a potential source of underachievement.
The students I worked with were all engaged in their education and recognised its value. They all indicated that, whilst they may participate in ‘laddish’ behaviour at times, this tended to be specific to certain subjects or teachers and was not indicative of a generally negative view of education. These students were not examples of ‘boys in crisis’. Indeed, some made a point of eschewing and condemning the negative behaviours in which some of their peers participated.
I tried to consider the interplay between ethnicity and masculinity that was at play here and noted that all the students I spoke to valued their strong family structures and had incredibly high aspirations irrespective of the poverty in which many of them lived in. I also suggested that a ‘deficit factor’ could offset the influence of ‘laddishness’. Students from a minority ethnic group face challenges, both real and perceived, that white British students do not. Perhaps this helps offsets some of the desire to indulge in some of the ‘laddish’ pastimes.
Drawing a firm conclusion was difficult as the intersection between race and gender obviously does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an incredibly complex web of factors acting upon students. One such factor is the school which students attended and some credit must be given to the staff and leadership of the school given that students in my research group did not see consider ‘laddishness’ to have a particularly powerful impact upon their education.
I also made the following recommendations:
-That academics, policy-makers, professional bodies, popular commentators and others refrain from indulging in damaging ‘boys in crisis’ rhetoric. ‘Laddishness’ does occur but it is not uniform, is not ubiquitous and isn’t a simple phenomenon.
-That the role schools and individual teachers play in tackling ‘laddishness’ be acknowledged and investigated further.
-That the high aspirations of members of ethnic minority groups, and indeed students generally be cultivated and used to prevent the emergence of ‘laddishness’. Amongst the students I interviewed, there was no ‘poverty of ambition’, only desire to succeed and an acknowledgement of the effort required to do so.
-That authentic first-person accounts of students’ experiences of education be used to inform policy and shape teaching practice. ‘Pupil voice’ is increasingly common within schools and can be useful. However, even when conducted properly (and not as a ‘tick box’ for OFSTED) it usually lacks the depth, insight and sense of advocacy that the ‘pen portrait’ approach that I used can achieve.
Comments welcome as always or Tweet @NWMaths