Boys, literacy, and career choice: understanding the experiences of disaffected high school boys
University of New Brunswick
Underachievement and gender in education are complex issues. Gender comparison statistics are mainly derived from the culture of international, national, and provincial large scale assessments. The so called, "what about the boys?" argument emerges out of these comparative approaches. The existing literature underscores the need to identify which boys are underachieving. Boys who are disaffected from school appear to be particularly at risk of not pursuing a post-secondary education. This study offers a unique perspective by examining disaffection from school through the voices of disaffected boys. Exploring the personal stories of ten boys who experienced disaffection from school offers a close-up picture of what the phenomenon of disaffection feels like from the "inside out" and provides greater depth and poignancy to the entire experience, which cannot be accomplished in large scale, survey research. The following characteristics of disaffection from school are examined from the perspective of adolescent boys: marginal literacy skills, academic detachment, a lack of focus on the pleasure of learning and reading in school, low participation, and/or low sense of belonging. Since a strong relationship has been established between perceived academic efficacy and how career choice and development decisions are made, this study also explores how disaffected adolescent boys made career choice decisions in light of their experiences and perceptions through the lens of self-efficacy. A phenomenological approach was used to investigate this phenomenon. The qualitative means of data collection consisted of at least two long, one-on-one interviews with ten adolescent boys, completing grade twelve in New Brunswick high schools. Member checking strategies were incorporated. Three overarching themes serve to represent the data: serving a sentence, coping with the reality, and facing the future. The findings of this study are relevant to the understanding of disaffection from school and to broadening the theoretical perspective of self-efficacy. Specifically, this research offers insight into what disaffected boys learn and do not learn in school and examines the nature of their affective connection with school. Who these boys are and the ways in which they frame their experiences constitute the focus of this study. Collectively, the findings of this study inform, confirm, and extend the existing literature. Implications for policy and practice as well as for future research are considered. This study demonstrates the personal side of the "what about the boys?" debate. The participants offer a window into their experience of disaffection from school and of the costs associated with maintaining the status quo. Their voices consistently convey the message that there needs to be a paradigm shift in how they are educated.