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Quality relationship is the name of the game.

One term that gets thrown about with carefree abandon and little thought I believe is: toxic masculinity. What on Earth is toxic masculinity?

It would appear to me that when ever a boy in any all boys schools does the slightest thing wrong, the same very things that millions of young men before him have done as part of their journey to maturity, it is labelled as toxic masculinity and it is all the fault of the all boys school. That is pure and utter bullshit!

There are great all boys schools. There are some pretty ordinary all boys schools. There are great all girls schools. There are some pretty ordinary all girls schools. There are some great co-educational schools. There are some pretty ordinary co-educational schools. There are great private schools. There are some pretty ordinary private schools. There are great state schools. There are some pretty ordinary state schools.

I have taught in several all boys schools and some co-educational schools. I have presented and facilitated staff Professional Days for hundreds of schools: some all boys, some all girls, many co-educational. If there is one thing I have learnt in my forty plus years of working in schools is that it is NOT the single-sex ness that matters, nor is it the co-educational-ness: it is the quality of culture, quality of interpersonal relationship and professional and deliberate intent at engaging in both culture and curriculum to journey beside young people to BE THEIR BEST SELVES that matters.

So called ‘toxic masculinity’ and perhaps ‘aggressive femininity’ are terms that can be brought out and attached to any non-reflective whim to suit the writer’s agenda. Does ‘toxic masculinity’ exist: sure does. Does ‘aggressive femininity’: sure does! I have witnessed both hundreds of times in every type of school. The causal factor is NOT the single sex-ness but rather lack of awareness, uncontrolled ego, being manipulated by social media, emotional immaturity and good old greed, self-centredness and avoidance of responsibility.

I have seen sporting coaches scream at students from a ‘win at all cost’ values base. I have seen students lose all sense of self and other centeredness as they worshipped at the altar of body image. I have worked with students who hated themselves, who blamed themselves and who saw themselves as a burden on all those around them. I have seen young people do everything to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and in some cases seen them do same with the active and pre-adolescent support of their supposed mature parents and care givers. I have seen the effects of pornography on the psycho-sexual maturity or rather lack of maturity of wonderful young women and men. I have become aware of emotionally immature and sick adults manipulate and get their needs met through children. I have seen parents pay for their fifteen old sons to lose their virginity. I have seen parents allow their daughters to walk out the door to attend school formals dressed as if they were sex workers on the main drag of Kings Cross.

And I have seen all of this and more from young people from private and state schools, co-educational and single sex schools.

My older brother has four extraordinary children. They are some of the finest young people I haver ever met: people of wonderful values, generous to a fault, great parents and role models for their children and three of them are graduates of Proserpine High School and one of an all boys school. While their schools were important to them, they are the wonderful young adults that they are because of the values taught to them and witnessed by them thousands of times in the family home. That is and always was and always will be the primary classroom for the values and attitudes to safely navigate life and thrive.

I have legions of old boys who are extraordinary partners and fathers. I have seen them work with the homeless, with refugees, with children from extreme poverty. I have seen them become captains of industry and players with blocks with their toddlers on the floor of the loungeroom. I have seen them represent their country and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. I have seen them earn seven figure salaries and cry as they looked down the aisle to their bride. I have seen them lead their school community and journey the roller coaster ride of sexuality with great honesty and integrity. I have seen them crash into rucks and mauls and hug loved ones with great vulnerability. I have seen them lead tribal chants at sporting events and stand up in the public arena and champion social justice causes.

Sure, all schools can lose balance and perspective. Sure, all types of schools can get caught up in other agenda that takes away from their core business.

Many years ago, I wrote an article (which I have since lost) called, “Woman: lover, friend or foe!” In the article I was critical of the Achilles heel of single sex schooling – that in its culture it can make it harder for the young person to gain friendship skills with members of the opposite sex. There can be a tendency, when all boys schools in particular are out of balance, for young people to view woman as ‘lover’ (in a sexual object way) or ‘foe’ (as a threat – often seen in the phrase, ‘Chicks before mates’). But these phenomena point to a culture that is out of balance and this lack of balance and this sub-culture can be just as present in the co-educational school.

Conversely I have seen young women thrive, academically, socially and in the arts and sporting arena in the all girls school environment. I have seen young men find their tribe (in the best sense of the word) in the all boys school and grow in respect filled confidence, claiming their best self for others. But I have also seen other young men and women need and thrive in the co-educational environment.

Sure, we should vet closely the employment of teachers and care givers. Sure, we need to put in place clear moral and ethical and behaviour boundaries and run the gauntlet of teenager rebellions and fighting back against them. Sure, we do battle every day with a sophisticated adult manipulated world of social media that gets its power (and money) from playing children and adolescents as pawns on a chessboard of greed and hedonism. Sure, we need to constantly and with great vigilance, work for the dignity and worth of every human being regardless of gender, colour or creed, sexual orientation, social status or bank balance. Sure, we need to work constantly to recognise and celebrate the beauty and sexuality of every person and call out the lie of the plastic culture, the throw away culture and the morning after emptiness of hedonism.

We need to do this – in every school – regardless of school type. Labelling ‘them’, creating a false enemy of the opposite sex and drawing false links and associations between adolescent behaviour and type of schooling only creates a lose – lose culture.

What we seek are great school communities that are actively supporting great communities of parents and care givers who all work together to mentor and walk beside young people as they journey to be their best selves.

Sadly, the uninformed mud slingers in this single sex, co-educational school debate focus on the presenting behaviour that is often simply the boundary pushing and tribal dance of adolescents slowly growing to be themselves. Labelling these behaviours as toxic masculinity or aggressive femininity does not help anyone: certainly not the wonderful young people we are seeking to liberate. Having said that, we educational professionals need to be continually focussed on engaging in this work professionally and passionately.

And we are! Schools, all types of schools, are doing much more work with ‘rites of passage’, resilience training, values work, relationship skills, boundary and consent education and the adventure and yet challenge of the psycho-sexual journey in their twenty-first century world.

Forget the time and energy to fight ideological and media wars that label single sex schools as bastions of toxic masculinity or aggressive femininity. Focus rather on the severely under resourced state and private co-educational schools. Put time and that energy into deliberate and professional attempts to build cultures of care and respect, acceptance and community, belonging and challenge.

Then, our next generations will be the extraordinary young men and women that our fragile Earth needs regardless of whether they went to St Philomena’s Academy for girls, Red Haired Boys collegiate or good old Prossie High!

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