The Year 12 results for Victorian high school students were released this week. 34 students received a perfect score of 99.95. But there was something significant about the schools these students came from.
15 of the 34 students came from just four schools. And these four schools are very alike: they are all traditional boys schools (Scotch College, Melbourne Grammar, Xavier College, Melbourne High School).
About 30 years ago there were more of these boys schools. But then the idea took hold that boys would do better if they were educated alongside girls and many of the boys schools went coeducational. But the coed schools just don't seem to be keeping up. The small number of surviving boys schools are beating them hands down.
So perhaps the prevailing wisdom about coeducation needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps one way of boosting boys' academic performance would be to reverse the trend by which single sex schools for girls are expanded whilst boys schools are closed down. It could be that the ideal is to have single sex schools for boys in the middle high school years and then mostly single sex schooling at senior high but with some combined classes (drama, music etc.) to develop social skills.
There's something else worth noting about the four boys schools. They are schools with a liberal philosophy but a traditional culture. The traditional culture supplies some of the depth that the liberal philosophy lacks.
That kind of "fusion" was once more widely typical of Western societies - that is, until liberalism began to go it alone from about the 1920s onwards (and more intensely since the 1960s). The liberal mainstream has suffered from a technocratic hollowness ever since.
But the schools which kept the historic architecture, the chapels, the honour boards, the anthems, the sporting traditions, the historic rivalries and the school loyalties have an advantage in drawing on the strengths of young men.
Obviously I don't like the idea of such a fusion between liberalism and traditionalism, as it leaves liberalism as the leading philosophy in society. But the boys schools which resisted the larger trends in society by keeping some of the traditional elements do seem to have benefited from doing so.