Teachers can’t tackle male violence when gagged by religion

How many times have you heard in the last week that schools need to ‘do better’ in tackling male violence in Ireland?

They do. But what do we mean by ‘doing better?’ Underneath that vague, virtuous statement, what action needs to be taken?

Most teachers are women. Many of them are young women like Ashling Murphy. Only 15% of teachers in primary schools are male. 

We should take a moment to picture that room of one hundred people, see 85 women. Remind ourselves that when we ask schools to ‘do better’ in tackling gender violence, we’re mostly addressing women. Again, women are being asked to solve the problem of male violence. It’s not as bad as suggesting they dress differently or carry pepper spray, but it’s also not nothing.

Wouldn’t it be something if more men became teachers? So, what can we do to make it happen? Well, we can remove compulsory Irish for primary teachers, often referred to as a ‘gender-biased filter.’ Boys don’t do as well in Irish, so it could be a start, a real measure. It would also diversify the profession in general. But it’s still only the tip of the iceberg. 

Boys are also less likely to enter caring professions. According to our constitution, a woman’s place is still ‘in the home’ but it’s also in hospitals, residential care units and schools. Ireland is above the EU average when it comes to women taking involuntary part-time work due to caring responsibilities. 

In most families, women still carry the caring load, that heavy, emotional, mental load. They carry people’s traumas, their needs, their fears, and their demands. It is exhausting. We need more men carrying it alongside them. 

Men need to turn up to the teacher courses I attend on empathy and restorative practice. Men are consistently in the minority at these events and whilst the men who do attend are inspiring, the empty seats are a reminder that change is not happening quickly enough.

Schools should do better. Yes, of course, but it’s hard to do better when you lack the legislation to teach objective sex education in the classroom. 

Where are the public cries for that? Why aren’t parents demanding change? The Education Act of 1998 allows ethos to trump truth across schools in Ireland. 

Our schools are still gagged by a religion designed and managed by men, and real conversations about sex, consent, sexuality, and gender identity simply don’t happen in many classrooms. 

The problem of male violence is also a problem of relationships. 244 women have died violently since records on femicide in Ireland began in 1996 and 87% have been killed by men they knew. We need to teach children what a positive relationship looks like, but we can’t do that in censored classrooms. 

Teachers should be robustly trained in Relationship and Sex Education. Let me assure you, we’re not. There’s no option to train to teach it. It’s just added to our timetable and unless we’ve principals pushing training, it might not ever happen. There are excellent courses out there, but they’re not uniform, and they’re not compulsory. You might as well pluck someone off the street and put them in front of your children. 

Schools should do better, yes. But the system needs to train its teachers adequately first. How many teachers this week asked children to share a moment of silence without the skills to deal with trauma or upset in the room? Too many, I assure you.

On Morning Ireland, when single-sex schooling was criticised, the objection was raised that girls simply do better in these environments. This is old research that focuses solely on academics, but there’s another reason why the comment should never be made. The assumption underpinning it is that young boys are a bad influence on young girls, past saving. 

Do we want to give up on boys at the age of five or maybe 12, keeping them away from our girls who need to be protected and minded? Do we want girls to feel that way about their male peers? The toxic masculinity narrative is a divisive one. Put a boy in a corner, tell him he’s a monster, and he’s more likely to become one. Single-sex schooling lessens, not strengthens empathy and we need to stop defending it.

I’m exhausted by surface reactions and shallow comments when it comes to male violence in this country. I’m tired of the spectacle, the sudden interest and then the return to nothing.

We all need to do better but that involves doing something, not just talking about it.

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