An Insight Into the Male Experience

Geezers need excitement
If their lives don’t provide them this they incite violence
Common sense, simple common sense

(‘Geezers Need Excitement’- The Streets)

 In a previous post, I argued that the English curriculum is hyper-feminised. Since writing the post, I’ve become more sensitive to the way we discuss masculinity in the school environment and the post that follows is written with the hope that, having read it, people may be more aware-or at least more sensitive- to the complexities of the male experience.

I want to tell you two stories.

When I was 14 years old I found myself sitting in a fast-food establishment of questionable quality, eating what was advertised as a ‘meat kebab.’ I was minding my own business and eating a kebab. That was all. As I was half way through my meal, a group of boys from my school entered the shop. They were about 4 years older and about 4 stone heavier. One of the boys took an instant dislike to me and proceeded to, as I remember it, ‘rip the shit out of me.’ Totally unprovoked, these four lads rounded on me, a boy 4 years younger, for absolutely no reason at all. I was scared and I was upset and I left. The kebab stayed on the table. I vividly remember getting home; I was fuming. I was humiliated and angered by the injustice of it all.  Since that incident, I’ve grown older. I aced my GCSE’s, nailed my A-Levels and worked damn hard to get a damn good degree at a damn good University. I read prolifically. In fact, I’m so well educated that society has deemed it okay for me to educate other people. So how do I feel when I think back to that incident in the kebab shop, 16 years ago? I feel shame. And anger. Burning anger.

Last week, I was in the gym and another bloke in the gym took an instant dislike to me. He couldn’t stop shooting aggressive stares in my direction and later on he shoulder barged me as I passed him. That is, he rammed his shoulder into my chest for absolutely no reason. Some time after, friends of his turned up and they all tried to intimidate me any way they could. If I haven’t told you already, I’m well educated; I read books and I watch films and I go to the theatre. I know what to do to avoid smashed teeth and a criminal conviction: Flight, not fight. So that’s what I did; I walked away, when all I wanted to do was smash some faces up. I went into the changing rooms, sat down and rationalised the situation. My thoughts went something like this:

  1. I’m more educated than they are, obviously. Educated people don’t go round picking on people.
  2. It’s brave, walking away
  3. Walking away is the right thing to do
  4. I’ve got lots of good qualifications and they, presumably, haven’t
  5. Aren’t I brave…walking…away….

And there’s the rub. There I was, hiding in a changing room, angry with myself for walking away, humiliated and emasculated,  and they were out there, laughing at my flight, blithely unaware of  any harm or upset they might cause to anyone ever. And I still feel it now. Walking away has left me ashamed. I don’t feel morally superior, nor do I feel as though I did the right thing. What irks me more, is an awareness that it is more than likely that my education-the fact that I read lots- has rendered me more susceptible and sensitive to the injustices of the situation.

I will always walk away. I like my face too much and I never want to go to prison. But, as a man, I feel an acute sense of shame-genuine shame-every time I think back to a time where I’ve ‘walked away.’ And I’m educated and well-rounded and my parents have done a sterling job in raising me. As teachers, we need to be aware of the complexities of the male experience. In the playground, its the boys who fight who rule the roost and those that read books hold no sway. Unless they can fight also. And this counts for adulthood too.

What does this mean? If I’m honest, I don’t know. But I’m open to suggestions.

I will always tell the boys I teach ‘to walk away and be the bigger person’ and I’ll tell them this because  engaging in physical fighting can kill. It can end lives. But can I sincerely and honestly tell these boys that they’ll feel good for walking away? Not at all. Quite the opposite.



POST: Telephone coach

WANTED: An educationalist (teacher/blogger/consultant), with a leaning towards a traditionalist or evidence-based approach.

JOB DESCRIPTION: You will be required to take part in a one-off 30 minute phone call with a frustrated teacher who feels increasingly isolated in a world of progressive teaching methods based on little else than intuition.

JOB REQUIREMENTS: The frustrated teacher wants to discuss a number of things with you:

  • Dealing with resistance to research or evidence-based methods because they’re ‘too didactic’ – How do you cope?
  • Time management- how do you allocate time to teaching/planning/reading research/ blogging.
  • Career prospects- is the frustrated teacher destined for a career in a profession resistant to traditionalist methods? Is Michaela the only school that espouses a knowledge-centred approach?
  • Tips on how frustrated teacher can encourage other teachers to share his passion for evidence-based / traditionalist approach to teaching and learning.

If you would be interested volunteering for this post, apply within.


In Defence of Similes

Last week, when a year 12 English literature student told me that a simile was “describing something using like or as” I was perturbed. Okay, so they were sort of right. But surely, in an English curriculum where an undue amount of time is given to explicit instruction of what a metaphor and simile is, year after year, writing unit after writing unit, surely a student should be able to tell me more than that.

Strictly speaking, a simile is, as a quick Google search reveals:

 …a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid e.g. ‘Brave as a lion.

 Succint as this definition is, it overlooks one vital point:; a carefully constructed simile is an opportunity. An opportunity to make the reader think about something in a way they’d never thought possible; an opportunity to make a reader understand abstract concepts by making connections to the concrete; and, most importantly of all, an opportunity to make the reader feel something about the quotidian. Because of this, teachers need to go further than simply telling students, year on year, and writing unit after writing unit, that similes are simply ‘describing something using like or as.’

Whenever I teach metaphor or similes, I always ensure that students- whether they’re eleven years old, or seventeen- are absolutely familiar with the three component parts of a metaphor as coined by the critic I.A. Richards. These are: the Tenor, Vehicle, and Ground. We’ll use the following metaphor as a model to explain the concepts:

…Juliet is the sun.

 The tenor is the thing being described. In this case, Juliet. It’s easier to remember because ‘thing being described’ and ‘tenor’ both begin with ‘t’. The vehicle is the thing that carries the weight of the metaphor; it’s the thing that the tenor is described as – in this case, the sun. Finally, the ground is the common ground between the two items, or, as I prefer to explain, the characteristics of the vehicle that the writer wants us to ascribe to the tenor. The ground of this simile is myriad:

  •  Juliet is hot
  • Juliet is bright
  • Juliet is in the sky
  • Juliet is a huge mass of incandescent gas
  • Juliet brings life
  • Juliet could be harmful
  • The world revolves around Juliet
  • Juliet is orange

The range of interpretations is huge. Of course, some interpretations are simply wrong. But there are a lot that we can assume to be correct: Romeo does find Juliet ‘hot.’ She is bright in as much as she stands out for him above everyone else at the Capulet party. She is on a higher plane than him, both literally-in her positioning on the stage ‘aloft’, upon a balcony-and figuratively-in that Romeo apotheosises her.  Romeo does feel reborn upon meeting Juliet and sure enough, just as the sun has the power to destroy, so too does Juliet.

Once students are familiar with the terms, tenor, vehicle and ground, discussion and teaching of metaphors and similes becomes more fluid purely because a shared language exisists to facilitate deeper discussion. We can get students to think meta-cognitively about the metaphors and similes they write with questions such as, ‘What is the ground of this metaphor?’; ‘Are metaphors with more ground better than those with less?’ We can prompt students who struggle with creative writing by getting them to list the characteristics of an object they want to convey – What groundof the tenor do you want to get across?Okay, make a list. Now, what vehicles have most of these characteristics? Which fits best with what you want your reader to feel?

 In a lesson context, I’d open the lesson with the ‘Juliet is the sun’ metaphor written on the board. I’ll then write, near it, ‘This is the best metaphor the world has ever seen. Why?’ Once students have discussed and fed back, I’ll then explain the concepts as I’ve outlined them above, and explain that never before has so much ground been covered in so little words. This metaphor of just four words, three of which don’t exceed three letters, has a multitudinous range of interpretations; that’s why it’s the best metaphor the world has ever seen, in my opinion.

 Once these concepts have been embedded, then the hard work can begin. Often heralded as the weaker sibling of metaphor, I like similes because they acknowledge that however something is perceived, a small part of it will always retain an element of its true state: in similes people can be brave as lions but that’s okay; they won’t end up tearing us to shreds because they’re still human. A classroom can be hot as hell but that’s okay; It’s still a classroom- windows can be opened. And, with similes, a young Italian man can be in desperate love with a young Italian woman he perceives to outshine all others , but – because he remembers she is human -he needn’t die due to a blinding devotion that mars his ability to make rational and informed decisions.