‘If you work hard in school you’re a geek’: An exploration of social and academic motives to understanding ‘uncool’ to work attitudes
Over the last decade there has been considerable interest in young masculinities and in how boys and young men respond to, and negotiate, schooling. Indeed, studies of boys’ school experiences have dominated recent gender and education research. In England this has been driven principally by data suggesting that more boys than girls fail to achieve A-C benchmark grades in GCSE examinations taken at age 16+. Similar patterns have emerged in many other countries around the world, leading to what some writers have called a moral panic about boys’ underachievement. ‘Uncool to work’ discourses overlap and merge with discourses on boys’ ‘underachievement’, as evidence suggests it is not ‘cool’ for lads to be seen to work hard academically.
The focus on boys has meant that issues relating to girls’ schooling and femininities have been sidelined in recent education agendas. Yet there is evidence to suggest that many girls too regard overt schoolwork as ‘uncool’. This paper explores girls’ and boys’ attitudes to learning in secondary schools. It draws upon data from an ESRC funded project. Project data include questionnaires from over 1000 girls and boys and interviews from 150 girls and boys, and over 30 teachers.
Specifically, the paper focuses upon the ways in which we can understand ‘it’s-not-cool-to-be-seen-working’ attitudes by exploring pupils’ social and academic motives. I will argue that we need to focus on both sets if we are to begin to understand why the uncool to work discourse is so dominant.
Keywords: Gender., Education, 'Underachievment'., Self-worth protection.
Dr Carolyn Jackson
Senior Lecturer, Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University