Chinese education officials are aggressively recruiting male teachers to serve as assertive and “manly” role models to young boys as a means to counter the trend of increasing numbers of timid and effeminate young males.
Prompted by reports from Chinese news media of a need to “salvage masculinity in schools,” officials are seeing a stepped-up debate about gender equality and social identity just as government leaders are seeking a labor market that first rewards achievement and ability over fairness.
Sixth grade teacher Lin Wei, 27, one of few male teachers at the primary school level in Fuzhou, China, teaches, “Men have special duties. They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing,” reports the New York Times.
China’s longstanding one-child policy has produced a population where boys far outnumber girls. Yet teachers are predominantly female and boys have consistently fallen behind in academic performance – with disparities in performance seen as early as third grade – causing concern for many parents who are now pressing for more assertive male role models in classrooms. The recruiting effort – that has included relaxing college admissions requirements and providing full scholarships with job guarantees to male applicants – has been labeled, by some, as “sexist.”
The effort to raise less effeminate boys is visible in Zhengzhou, where schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” Similarly, in Shanghai, “boys only” classes for martial arts, computer repair, and physics are offered. Educators in Hangzhou have launched a summer camp–called West Point Boys–that offers taekwondo classes and touts the motto, “We bring out the men in boys.”
The backlash against the endeavor, however, has been heard.
“If women go into architecture, shouldn’t the government give them a free education too?” Xue Rongfang, a student at Fujian Normal University, asked. “Why should men get this benefit?”
Others deny the negative influence of a plethora of female teachers on boys.
We have a more intuitive sense of children’s needs,” said Li Yue, 36, a kindergarten teacher in Fuzhou. “It isn’t the responsibility of schools to teach boys to be boys. It’s the responsibility of parents.”
Zhou Jiahao, 18, a senior at Shanghai No. 8 Senior High School, disagrees that China faces a masculinity crisis, but said boys feel more confident in all-male classes.
“In classes with female students, we might not dare speak out,” he said. “When it’s just boys, we feel much freer.”
As the Times observes, wages are a problem in recruiting more male teachers. The average salary of a public school teacher in 2013 was approximately $17,000.
In addition to salary concerns, however, some young men express concern about perceptions that male teachers are not trustworthy and that the choice to become a teacher is an indication of homosexuality.
Jiang Weiwen, 19, a university student, said friends and relatives wondered why he would choose a career in teaching.
“They asked, ‘Why would a man want to be a teacher?’” he said. “They think men should be ambitious, and that it’s so stable and bland to be a teacher.”