By Dr David Laing Dawson
And for those not in Ontario, St Michael’s in Toronto is presently involved in police investigations where charges have been laid against students for bullying, assault and other charges pertaining to numerous incidents seen in videos spread on social media.St Michael’s is an all boys private Catholic secondary school
First we insist all schools be co-ed. We ban girls-only and boys-only schools. Then we stop overestimating the maturity and judgement of teenagers, especially when we find them in clusters, groups and herds.
The adolescent years are important. It is a time for these nascent humans to discover, navigate, as pioneers, the complexity of a sane, competitive yet compassionate society of human beings. They are discovering and forging boundaries, social contracts, the necessities of cohesion, cooperation. They are, at the best of times, overcoming fears and prejudices, and finding ways to satisfy their needs and desires while remaining kind and civil, building a unique sense of self while maintaining membership.
For this they need to be sitting in classrooms and walking the hallways with a full range of other human adolescents. Girls and boys of different sizes, shapes, abilities, and origins.
Putting all the boys in one school, and the girls in another, is a gross distortion of socialization during a very important developmental phase.
I could go on about this in abstract terms alluding to brain development, frontal lobe development, managing sexuality, gender identification, self awareness, expanding consciousness, and the need for all of this to happen within a good prototype, a good facsimile of the real world. But two small examples might paint the picture more vividly.
At the end of each Junior High School year my school held a convocation, an assembly, with the auditorium filled with students and parents. Besides speeches and singing, awards were presented. The three top students of each year had to go on stage to be presented a certificate. For three years I had to walk on stage and share these honours with a white girl and a Chinese girl. I remember fearing being teased by boys, my friends and buddies with their “manly” values, but I never was.
A generation later I have a photograph of a Student Council Meeting at M.M Robinson High. My daughter, Erin, is chairing that meeting. The members are sitting around the table. They appear to be listening intently as Erin points something out to them. They are all boys.
Contrast this with the current cover of The New Yorker. It depicts a room full of suited, older white men, all white, conferring with one another, and a door opening with a colourful array of women about to enter.
It is not at all hard to imagine, at an all boys school, with a tradition of manly muscular Christianity, how a gang culture develops with an emphasis on hierarchy, loyalty, dominance, and submission, with the infliction of pain confused with mirth, and the expression of sexuality becoming mixed with both.
We have a long way to go figuring out how to supervise our teens at home and at school now that their years of dependency stretch into their 20’s, unskilled but good jobs diminish, and these teens can now communicate with one another 24/7, and spend much of their time staring at screens, but closing the all boys and all girls schools would be one step in the right direction.
For more about raising adolescents, check out The Adolescent Owner’s Manual