The State of Canadian Boyhood—Beyond Literacy to a Holistic Approach

Douglas Gosse, Steven Arnocky


In the new millennium, international interest has developed on the trouble of boys, both in and out of school, with a particular focus on boys’ deficiencies in literacy skills.  This interest has prompted research and action plans in Australia, Great Britain, the United States, and to a more regionalized or provincial capacity within Canada, such as in the Toronto District School Board and the province of Ontario.  However, in Canada, amidst a popular discourse that underscores the problems facing boys by focusing on literacy, many of the stark and sweeping trends regarding Canadian boys remain obscured.  This paper has four major components that are purposely provocative in order to interrogate many widely held assumptions.  Firstly, we provide the overall impetus for this paper, background caveats, and the concept of strategic essentialism.  Secondly, we introduce a synopsis of several countries’ initiatives to address nationally boys’ problems, and then the prevalent literacy movement seen in the representative province of Ontario, Canada.  Thirdly, we produce statistical indicators of school engagement and achievement for Canadian boys as compared to girls, and further patterns regarding their physical and mental health, as an overview of the state of Canadian boyhood.  Lastly, we offer several paths for further consideration in Canada, (a) recommending more complex desegregation of the data to understand with more precision which boys are struggling, using an analysis that goes beyond gender to encompass race, class, sexual orientation, disability, and geographical location; (b) offering as an example, an empirical study of adult role models in Canada, and the effects on boys; (c) suggesting a broader social understanding of gender, that is complicit with the boy code; and (d) encouraging movement towards addressing Canadian boys’ issues using the aforementioned trends and recommendations, with not only regional and provincial approaches, but also a national and holistic lens, too.

Keywords: strategic essentialism; boys and literacy; boys and mental health; boys and schooling


strategic essentialism; boys and literacy; boys and mental health; boys and schooling

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