Saturday, October 16, 2010

Helping Boys to Like Reading Without Scatology

I liked this a lot:

"When I was a young boy, America's elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males," writes Thomas Spence. "That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can't read."

Spence is not the first to observe this. He disagrees, however, on one of the proposed "remedies."

"According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must 'meet them where they are'—that is, pander to boys' untutored tastes.
For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means 'books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.' AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to 'grossology' parties."

His alternative theory?

"The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time 'plugged in' than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys' attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?"

I'm with Spence. Both boys and girls (and adults) would make room for reading if they weren't constantly plugged in to MP3s, cellphones, Twitter, and Facebook. Making books more available and removing (at least for a little while) devices that feed the picture into young minds, rather than allowing imaginations to do some of the work, is what will help more young people read. I know I'd hate going to a "grossology" party, with everyone talking about poo or their farts or puke. I read a good amount of sports fiction and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries at that age.

Another "solution" I have a problem with centers upon gender stereotypes, as people argue that boys will all love reading adventure and sci-fi stories, while girls read about being saved by a white knight. Have boys and girls alike read Treasure Island, and then have them all read Jane Eyre. Maybe you'll find more boys like the first book and more girls like the second. Maybe you won't. But exposing minds to many types of literature and helping them figure out what they like and don't like seems like the best bet. After all, even though I'm not a patron myself, don't both genders adore the Harry Potter series?

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