Boys, when they are approaching the eleven plus examinations, sometimes find themselves under pressure. History has given us a picture of boys from different cultures growing up accepting initiation and a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. The boy has to become a man.
A boy often is expected to show manliness by being more rough and ready and more adventurous than girls. At the same time some boys are taught to be polite, clean and are expected to show some delicacy of taste and manners.
We hope that pre eleven plus boys will not demonstrate signs of delinquency and conflict. The occasional rebellion over completing an eleven plus paper is not, however, quite the same as throwing a stone through a window.
Some mothers will encourage their eleven year old sons to be independent and tolerant - after all these are essential parts of the make up of a balanced adult. Other mothers will emphasise the need for their son to work hard at school and maintain the family name.
An eleven year old boy, even a very bright one, will try to assert himself in a bewildering variety of ways – depending on the circumstances within the family. If a boy feels, for example, that he is subject to an injustice he may react in a very different manner to how he behaves when he has to submit to the will of the family.
The comforting thing is that very few true eleven plus boys feel the need to descend into juvenile anarchy.
We had an eleven plus boy with us some time ago. It was clear that he would pass his eleven plus. He was often off hand with our teachers. He would pass our receptionist on his way into and out of lessons without acknowledging her cheery greeting. His fights with his mother after lessons were legendry. There was little give and take. He had the ability to endure a whole lesson without a smile – and never offered a please or thank you. He simply demanded.
One day a much younger child sat beside him in the lesson. His whole demeanour changed. His voice and look became gentle. He offered advice, comfort and suggestions along with a ready and winning smile. The younger child blossomed and looked for approval. We had worked with the older boy for some months and he had never given any of us an inch.
There was some trigger in his personality to protect and succour. He did not need to be taught to be manly and pleasant. These traits were within him. The nature and breadth of formal eleven work simply did not allow him the opportunity to display his ability to be friendly and co-operative. We wondered if he was very resentful about having to work towards the eleven plus. It could be that because he was so bright that he could cope with much of the work at school – but he met new and different work as he laboured towards the eleven plus.
Was there a happy ending?
It is difficult to know. Was it our place to ask him why his behaviour changed so much? I am not so sure.