Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Boys, girls, books, parents

A week ago Thursday while I was eating breakfast I happened to read a David Brooks op-ed in my local paper. Brooks begins his piece on why boys don't read as much as girls with a nod to the "angst and Orwell" study that came out earlier this year, then claims that the books women chose as their favorites are "a lot better than the books the men chose." Considering that this was a David Brooks column, I immediately smelled a trap.

By the end of the article, sure enough, Brooks has put boys' falling reading rates on the shoulders of schools that force boys to sit still and subject them to consciousness-raising material, which, of course, fall under the category of books with female protagonists. Boys should be taught more Hemingway, Tolstoy, Homer and Twain or else the schools will turn "many of them into high school and college drop-outs who hate reading."

Later in the day I followed a link to a Boris Johnson piece in the Telegraph that opined as well on the falling reading rates among men, in a much more obnoxious, yet entertaining way. I was quite heartened still later to come across The Kids and Family Reading Report, which does not address the differences between males and females at all, but indicates that parents need to become more involved, not less, when their children become independent readers—by serving as reading models and by helping their kids and teens find books of interest. Thirty-one percent of kids are classified as "high frequency" readers; although 74 percent of parents say reading is the most important skill their children can have, only 21 percent of parents read daily themselves.

But before I could pull anything together for a post on these items, all my time and energy went into caring for the pug.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I discovered Victoria's fabulous insights in "Women, Books and Boris," and this Washington Post article, which casts doubts on a gender crisis in the schools (it appears to be more one of race and class): "much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that although the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him."

I hope this means boys can be expected to have a Margaret Atwood or a Harper Lee mixed in with their Hemingway and Homer in the schools now without the adults having full-scale hissy fits.

And I hope more parents will take their kids to the bookstore or the library, and that they'll chose something for themselves on the trip.

6 comments:

Danielle said...

I can't stomach Brooks--so I don't even bother looking at his columns. I saw a story on this on the national news last night, but didn't quite catch everything. Why is it not a happy story that girls are doing better than previously (especially in math and science) or comparable--yes, it is all about the boys. In this day and age are they still the only ones expected to do well, be smart, and go to college and excel? Shouldn't we want all kids to have the same advantages? I think you are right--parents do need to step in and help the process along and also be good role models themselves. I know a lot of people with kids, and many, many of them do not even own a single book--not one lousy book in their homes. It really saddens me!

Danielle said...

I can't stomach Brooks--so I don't even bother looking at his columns. I saw a story on this on the national news last night, but didn't quite catch everything. Why is it not a happy story that girls are doing better than previously (especially in math and science) or comparable--yes, it is all about the boys. In this day and age are they still the only ones expected to do well, be smart, and go to college and excel? Shouldn't we want all kids to have the same advantages? I think you are right--parents do need to step in and help the process along and also be good role models themselves. I know a lot of people with kids, and many, many of them do not even own a single book--not one lousy book in their homes. It really saddens me!

Stefanie said...

A dear friend of mine told me recently that they have reading hour every night at home. Both she and her husband (both work full-time jobs too) sit and read their own books while their 6 and 8 year old girls read theirs. Not surprisingly, both of the girls love reading and are doing quite well at it for their age. If only all parents did that.

Dorothy W. said...

I have the same reaction to Brooks -- he's so off base. And I just can't stand the freaking out when boys *appear* to be threatened in any way, when really it's just a matter of girls showing even more improvement. Arg!

sfp said...

I think I'm very sympathetic to boys individually, but whenever someone acts as if white males in general are being oppressed and made society's victims, I lose all patience. I just don't see it.

Stefanie, I think I mentioned a year or so back that I have a bil who used to be a big reader, but he stopped when he and my husband's sister (who would never read a book) had kids. He said he couldn't stay up late to finish the books he wanted to read anymore, so he just quit, and only reads when he's on vacation. I'm sure he'd be doing the kids more good if he'd perhaps quit reading cliff hangers and turned his attention to books he didn't feel quite the need to rush through. Ah well, at least my mil reads to those kids.

And Danielle, we used to have next door neighbors who didn't have a book in the house. I actually think there are many like that in this neighborhood.

litlove said...

My son loves lots of books and generally enjoys reading - but he doesn't like being told what to do in school. Empirical experience suggests girls are a bit more accommodating in the classroom situation and are happy to take in information aurally. Boys tend to favour kinetic learning - leaping around, engaging and generally doing things to learn. These are gross generalisations that naturally have all kinds of exceptions, but my point is that there are lots of reasons why on average young boys sit still and read books less than girls.