Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post

IBSC Executive Director Tom Batty wrote this letter to the editor of The Washington Post in response to the article Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness by columnist Christine Emba published online July 10, 2023. 


For the editor, The Washington Post, in response to the article Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness by columnist Christine Emba in the Opinions section of your publication (July 10, 2023).

I write having spent 36 years as a teacher and in leadership roles in schools across government, Catholic, and independent sectors in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Whilst I was educated,  trained, and began my career in coeducational environments, I have spent 33 years involved with boys’ schools. Since finishing as principal (headmaster) of a large boys’ school in Melbourne, Australia, in July of last year, I have been back in the UK in the role of executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC), an association based out of the US, which I had previously served as board member and chair.

The roots of, and therefore solutions to, the very real challenges faced by boys and men articulated in this article are less about masculinities and more about care. The means of advancement rests with education. It’s a long burn across the development of each boy involving schools and families.

We know:

  • On average, boys and girls develop at different times and at different rates. (Reeves)
  • Boys need positive male role models at key stages of their development. (Biddulph)
  • The numbers of men in care roles in boys’ lives has decreased. (Reeves)
  • Boys are relational learners, and we must reach them before we can teach them. (Reichert)
  • Since the introduction of a national curriculum in Britain and the focus on a content/test approach to education, boys have fallen behind girls in measured testing outcomes.
  • Continuing the rightful and long overdue march to equality for girls and women and doing the right thing by boys is not a zero-sum game. (Reeves)

We need:

  • More positive male role models (to join the many positive female role models) around boys in their educational journey. By positive, read caring men with interests, skills, and wise stories to share to ignite passions, hone mastery, and nurture purpose in young men so they feel of worth and can participate in the world around them for the greater good.
  • An education system that, rather than reinforcing failure through continual testing, provides the time and variety boys need to discover the interests and skills that forge a sense of worth and desire to participate in causes bigger than themselves.

Boys’ schools work intentionally for the needs of boys during key times of development. In and out of class, boys’ schools can take time to provide experiences that build the relationships, respect, and trust on which boys thrive. They can find the time to run activities and nurture the stories upon which boys hang their learning. They can take the time to know each boy, unearth passions, hone mastery, and guide him to choose engagement with, rather than separation from, learning. They can take time to steer recruitment and professional development towards staff skilled in learning relationships and the development of boys.

Such factors have always been central to the education of boys. In an environment where education and “success” are increasingly premised on a content/test/qualification format, schools are increasingly struggling to find the time and provide the care boys need. The gap widens.

In short, boys’ schools can, with intent and for each boy, take time to develop programs that unearth passions and hone mastery across a broad landscape, so that being interested in things and aspiring to get good at them become habits for life.

And there is good evidence of success. In his significant work, Achievement in boys’ schools 2013-2016, Dr. Michael Johnston of the Faculty of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand notes, “The overall picture that emerges is that young men at single-sex schools gain NCEA qualifications, University Entrance and New Zealand Scholarship passes in greater proportions than their counterparts at coeducational schools.” Cognisant of the possible selection effect “that parents with high aspirations for their sons are more likely to send them to single-sex schools than other parents,” Dr. Johnston notes, “Even so, the single-sex advantage is quite striking across nearly the full range of data considered and certain potential confounds, such as socioeconomic variables and choice of assessment type are shown not to be plausible explanations for the demonstrated single-sex advantage.” The New Zealand research is ongoing and the latest results, now ready for publication, again show similarly persuasive results for what is now a 10-year study.

There are many fine coeducational schools, there are many fine girls’ schools and, throughout the world, across government, independent, and Catholic sectors, there are many fine boys’ schools providing choice for families, acting intentionally for the boys in their care and the societies they will serve, and providing map out of the wilderness.

Tom Batty

Executive Director, International Boys’ Schools Coalition