The history class began with a lesson on being manly.
Lin Wei, 27, one of a handful of male sixth-grade teachers at a primary school here, has made a habit of telling stories about warlords who threw witches into rivers and soldiers who outsmarted Japanese troops. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”
Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.
In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics. In Hangzhou, in eastern China, educators have started a summer camp called West Point Boys, complete with taekwondo classes and the motto, “We bring out the men in boys.”
Education officials across China are aggressively recruiting male teachers, as the Chinese news media warns of a need to “salvage masculinity in schools.” The call for more male-oriented education has prompted a broader debate about gender equality and social identity at a time when the country’s leaders are seeking to make the labor market more meritocratic.
It also reflects a general anxiety about boys in Chinese society. While boys outnumber girls as a result of the longstanding one-child policy and a cultural preference for sons, they consistently lag in academic performance. Some parents worry about their sons’ prospects in an uncertain economy, so they are putting their hopes in male role models who they believe impart lessons on assertiveness, courage and sacrifice.
The view that there is an overabundance of female teachers that has had a negative effect on boys has, perhaps predictably, led to a backlash. Parents have accused schools of propagating rigid concepts of masculinity and gender norms, and female educators have denounced efforts to attract more male teachers with lavish perks as sexist.
In Fuzhou, a city of two million, colleges and universities have come under fire for relaxing admissions requirements and offering full scholarships and teaching jobs to young men.
Xue Rongfang, a student at Fujian Normal University, wondered why women should not get similar benefits to enter traditionally male fields. “If women go into architecture, shouldn’t the government give them a free education too?” she said. “Why should men get this benefit?”
In some schools, teachers said the large number of female educators, especially in lower grades, had a positive influence on students.
“We have a more intuitive sense of children’s needs,” said Li Yue, 36, a kindergarten teacher in Fuzhou. “It isn’t the responsibility of schools to teach boys to be boys. It’s the responsibility of parents.”
Chinese education officials, for the most part, appear to disagree. While men are scarce among the ranks of public schoolteachers worldwide, including in the United States, the gender imbalance is especially pronounced in China, where women occupy four out of five teaching positions in urban areas, according to a 2012 study by Beijing Normal University. China has 15 million schoolteachers and about 270 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Source: The New York Times | JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ