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Learning the Hard Way

Learning the Hard Way: Masculinity, Place, and the Gender Gap in Education

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Learning the Hard Way
    Book Description:

    An avalanche of recent newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, scholarly journals, and academic books has helped to spark a heated debate by publishing warnings of a "boy crisis" in which male students at all academic levels have begun falling behind their female peers. InLearning the Hard Way, Edward W. Morris explores and analyzes detailed ethnographic data on this purported gender gap between boys and girls in educational achievement at two low-income high schools-one rural and predominantly white, the other urban and mostly African American. Crucial questions arose from his study of gender at these two schools. Why did boys tend to show less interest in and more defiance toward school? Why did girls significantly outperform boys at both schools? Why did people at the schools still describe boys as especially "smart"?

    Morris examines these questions and, in the process, illuminates connections of gender to race, class, and place. This book is not simply about the educational troubles of boys, but the troubled and complex experience of gender in school. It reveals how particular race, class, and geographical experiences shape masculinity and femininity in ways that affect academic performance. His findings add a new perspective to the "gender gap" in achievement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5370-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    The headline ofNewsweekmagazine shouts with breathless urgency, “The Boy Crisis. At Every Level of Education, They’re Falling Behind. What to Do?” This national cover story is just one of an avalanche of articles and books on what some have called the “new gender gap” in education: the significantly lower achievement of boys as compared to girls. These findings have produced heated debate. If girls are graduating from high school, completing college, and even entering graduate schools in higher number than boys are, what does this mean for gender inequality? Are boys and men now disadvantaged by gender?


  5. Chapter 2 Respect and Respectability
    (pp. 20-34)

    Gender is socially constructed. This perspective underscores the production of gender at the local level of interaction, shaped by particular social forces that manifest there. Thus, it was critical to my project to examine the contours of local context, or place, in enactments of masculinity and femininity at Clayton and Woodrow Wilson. The local history, conditions, and construction of knowledge at both schools created challenges for the education of students but in slightly different ways at each school, especially within the peer culture. At Woodrow Wilson, a large urban school, peers emphasized being known and achieving respect. At Clayton, a...

  6. Chapter 3 The Hidden Injuries of Gender
    (pp. 35-48)

    Students at Woodrow Wilson and Clayton faced many difficulties and disadvantages, and their gender ideals and pathways to becoming a man or a woman developed within these challenging contexts. Their gendered responses to life challenges produced different outcomes. Masculinity was consistent with school distancing while femininity was consistent with school attachment, and each enactment had different implications for education.

    In this chapter I focus on two students at Clayton High School, Kevin and Kaycee. Although I realize that such a concentration makes the book somewhat asymmetrical, my rationale is twofold. First, the approach contrasts the masculinity and femininity of two...

  7. Chapter 4 Too Cool for School: Masculinity and the Contradictions of Achievement
    (pp. 49-76)

    Donte, a tenth grader at Woodrow Wilson, approached life with effusive optimism. He was relentlessly outgoing—constantly talking and joking with other students and teachers and instantly befriending me early in my fieldwork, even though he hardly knew me. The more I hung out with Donte, the more impressed I became with his energetic, positive demeanor and his ability to insert levity into the most quotidian school routines. When I interviewed him later in my fieldwork, I was further impressed with the surprising depth of his thinking and his buoyant dreams of success, despite growing up with seven other siblings...

  8. Chapter 5 Rednecks and Rutters: Rural Masculinity and Class Anxiety
    (pp. 77-101)

    When compared to girls, boys at both Woodrow Wilson and Clayton affected a more casual approach to schoolwork, resulting in less academic diligence and lower performance. This contrived carelessness was a way of doing masculinity, a response to perceptions that anti-school performances represented masculine power and independence. In this chapter I look deeper into why masculinity acquired such connotations and patterns of action, focusing on the rural context of Clayton. Theories of doing gender and hegemonic masculinity are contextually based; so to understand such processes in school, we must learn more about the settings in which masculinities and femininities evolve...

  9. Chapter 6 Clownin’ and Riffin’: Urban Masculinity and the Complexity of Race
    (pp. 102-127)

    Economic restructuring in the rural community of Clayton created a sense of class uncertainty, which impelled boys to demonstrate the strength of masculinity through hegemonic ideals of physical power and toughness. In crafting masculinities, these boys also crafted social class identities, following certain class-inflected guidelines for masculinity. Socially esteemed masculinities tended to diverge from, and occasionally directly inhibit, academic success. At Woodrow Wilson, the ongoing achievement of masculinity also detracted from academic achievement; but race and racial inequality played significant roles in shaping and motivating the production of masculinity. I do not mean to imply that race was unimportant at...

  10. Chapter 7 “Girls Just Care about It More”: Femininity and Achievement As Resistance
    (pp. 128-149)

    Courtney, a confident, perceptive girl at Woodrow Wilson, did not hesitate to disagree when I asked her if the man should be a family’s main provider. Courtney had been through a lot in her seventeen years. Her parents had both dropped out of high school, and she lived with her father, who worked in lawn care. She had spent most of her childhood in Mississippi, but the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina severely disrupted her family and community. After the storm, her school became dangerous and chaotic.

    Courtney struggled academically and eventually had to repeat ninth grade. But she reached a...

  11. Chapter 8 Friday Night Fights
    (pp. 150-168)

    When I first told Kevin at Clayton that I was writing a book about high school student life, he responded immediately, “Well, you’ll have to put a lot in there about fighting.” Although his statement might appear to be flippant, I found that fighting was indeed an important part of school life at both Clayton and Woodrow Wilson. Fights occurred regularly and were popular aspects of school life—a sort of underground sport, which, perhaps even more than school-sanctioned sports, paraded and tested masculinity. Not only were the willingness and ability to defend oneself physically (and harm an opponent) enduring...

  12. Chapter 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 169-178)

    Schools are important sites for the construction of gender, forging meanings of masculinity and femininity that guide academic behaviors and outcomes. The idea that doing gender influences educational processes and helps explain why boys and girls perform differently from one another in school was solidified for me during one routine day at Clayton when I was observing Mr. Clark’s math class. He began class by opening a container of vibrantly colored blocks. The blocks, he explained animatedly, would help students understand math concepts by “exercising your math brains!” The students were less enthusiastic. They moped and brooded; their mood seemed...

  13. Appendix. Research Methods: Process and Representation
    (pp. 179-186)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-190)
  15. References
    (pp. 191-200)
  16. Index
    (pp. 201-212)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 213-214)