Hollie Anderton and Ross Morrison McGill have produced an accessible guide to an issue that’s high on the public agenda. As newspapers and bloggers hone in on gender, Hairdresser or Footballer looks at some of the reasons why there are still huge differences in career and academic learning choices between young men and women leaving school.
This book has a personal motivation: Hollie Anderton is a primary teacher who each year helps a new cohort question the gender stereotypes they arrive with in her class. Her aim here is to provide a toolkit for other teachers to do the same. Ross McGill is a well-known teacher blogger and while his name is on the cover, his role in the book’s creation (apart from writing the introduction) is less clear.
It starts with a whistlestop tour of the history of education, with a couple of pages dedicated to various epochs. After Ancient Greece, we jump to Roman Britain, then another seven periods of British history up to the present. This section is an early indication that this book is less an expert guide and more a journal of its author’s personal journey of discovery. It concludes with: “By undertaking the research that I have to write this section, I have realised just how far society has come – and how far we have to go. . . If this were to continue, then surely we should have completely free and equal societies in no time.”
We then turn to gender differences, first through a “myth-busting” section and then through teacher interviews. It is interesting to read about teachers’ processes in their own words, and how they are having to challenge themselves to think differently to personalise the experience for their learners. One interviewee, the only male teacher in his school, reflects on phrases such as, “I need two strong boys to help me”, which reinforce stereotypes that it’s all too easy to fall into. He also shares how he has been asked in the past to deal with the “naughty boys”, something that makes him uncomfortable. “This sends out the wrong message,” he says. “It is very similar to the old saying of ‘Wait ’til I tell your dad.’ All this does is diminish the authority of a female.”
Chapter 3 deals with aspirations, with an emphasis on gender influences, but also a look at family and societal dynamics. The author also uses this section to introduce children’s views. It is interesting to observe how friends, family, teachers and society start to shape the decisions of young men and women and, in some cases, steer them away from their passions and back into what Anderton calls the “blueprint of life” – a phrase she uses to describe the idea that there’s a “path laid out for us” by society that it’s hard to rebel against.
It is difficult to do justice to the topic of aspirations in a single chapter (on this theme, I would recommend How Children Succeed by Paul Tough), but it does start to demonstrate the significant pressure that we put on children to conform to society’s demand for order.
The book then explores the myriad of other challenges a child has to contend with when trying to establish who they want to be: what’s trending on social media, what the all wise vloggers of the YouTube generation are telling them to think, as well as the more traditional pressures from peers, families and religious groups.
While this felt more like reading a series of magazine articles than a book, it may challenge new teachers not to fall in to the mistakes made in the past – and to encourage children to pursue their passions and where possible, challenge the current “normal”!