At Loughborough Grammar School, we presume to know boys. That is our job, and this covers not just how boys best learn in the classroom, but also how they thrive in all aspects of their lives. Part of our focus on their wellbeing is helping them to understand what ‘being a man’ actually entails. There has been a good deal of debate on this question, particularly since the dawn of the #metoo movement. At the Grammar School, we welcome the breaking down of male stereotypes. A recent lecture on the subject that I attended defined the three myths of macho masculinity: a young man is good at academic work (although without obviously trying hard); he is good at sport; and he is irresistible to the opposite sex.
These stereotypes have placed an intolerable burden on generations of young men who are forced by peer pressure to conform to the model against their judgement or desires, often submitting to the selfish behaviours referred to collectively as toxic masculinity. We want better for Grammar School boys. During their school journey, we want them to discover who they are, to identify their passions, and to be happy being their unique selves.
It is only relatively recently that we have started to understand better the correlation between positive mental health and examination achievement. A young man who feels safe and contented in both his home and school environments has the ideal conditions to work towards academic success. This is the motivation behind our GREAT men initiative that was formally launched in assembly yesterday morning by Mr Morris and Mrs Foster. Indeed, I hope that your son may have mentioned it to you. Certainly, the intent of this blog is to give you more context so that you might have a constructive discussion on the subject. I have written about this initiative previously, but I appreciate that several readers will be coming fresh to my blog this week. GREAT is an acronym reflecting the attitudes that we wish to develop with boys:
Growth mind-set Resilience Emotional Awareness Talk
Thursday’s assembly concentrated on the talking element. Although men are often brilliant at talking about their work, or the football results, or the best route to take to Blackpool, they can find it difficult to talk about emotions. We are concerned about this for a number of reasons. Firstly, a man who doesn’t talk is easily isolated. The expression ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has much truth to it, but when faced with the question ‘what’s wrong?’ many men are reluctant to be honest, and prefer to dismiss it, or even to deflect it with a joke. At LGS, part of our job is to help the boys develop into young men who will make meaningful, honest partnerships in their lives. We know that partners consistently express frustration with the men in their lives who prefer to bottle things up rather than addressing an important issue.
Furthermore, failing to talk and to have a ‘go-to person’ can make men deeply unhappy: the suicide rate for men is three times that of women. This reality explains our determination to act, and to help boys develop the skills that they will need in later life. If we can encourage boys to talk appropriately about their feelings now, it might save them, and those who care about them, a lot of pain later.
We see that there are two main elements to this challenge: firstly, we can teach boys the skills to become better questioners and listeners so that their male friends are more likely to have the confidence to talk; secondly, we need to destigmatise talking about how we feel.
Mr Morris attributed our reluctance to talk to fear, embarrassment or to merely not knowing how. For a long time, men have felt that opening up is a weakness. However, his point to boys was that it takes bravery to talk: bravery to give your opinion; to expose your real feelings; or to be vulnerable about how your life really is. Our aspiration is that our boys will be tough enough to talk. We want them to be tough enough to give their opinion in a thoughtful and respectful manner, and tough enough to explain how they feel at a difficult time. This is when they will gain a new level of honesty and dignity, a new level of compassion for the people around them, and a new level of happiness and self-contentment.
We have prepared a video that attempts to explain what we are seeking to achieve with the GREAT men initiative. This is narrated by our current and previous Head Boys, with contributions from our teacher alumni, reflecting on how the Grammar School was in their day, and how we can all seek to be better.
For more information, please see the relevant page of our website: https://lsf.org/grammar/about/great-men/