Friday, May 16, 2008

doesn't look good for your boys

"What's the money favoring so far?" I said.

"Doesn't look good for your boys."

... That's a little exchange from Ghost Medicine (I won't reveal the context) that I think is an appropriate way to get this going.

In reading and writing, girls outperformed boys by "significant amounts" in all industrialized countries.

... That's data presented from a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003, cited in Michael Gurian's The Minds of Boys. It's a terrific book, and I highly recommend it for any teacher, and, especially, any parent of sons... because we're losing our boys in school, and we need to get them back.

So that's why I've been experimenting with average- and under-achieving male readers with my book. I've been testing a theory about getting them motivated to read again, and I think I'm on the right track. At least... so far, so good.

Without going into too much detail on state-approved curriculum, what's been happening in education since the late 1970s is that reading and writing curricula have changed in order to reduce the gender gap that showed girls scoring much lower than boys in reading and writing. As a result, language arts shifted toward content that worked better with girls' brains and tested for mastery by using the ways that girls process information.

As the boys in my limited and anecdotal study pointed out, they were not encouraged to read, or even presented with, books that appeal to boys' brains. Gurian points out that much of this is physiological and hormonal.

Because boys' brains are being constantly machine-gunned by testosterone, they often experience great difficulty enduring some of the great works of fiction we require them to read in high school (no matter how great these books are, and I'm not going to name names). As a result, a lot of boys get turned off to reading, and everything falls apart after that.

What do boys' brains need in books? Well, obviously, they need male characters (and I have a theory that a LOT of male characters in fiction today are not really male, but I'll save that for another post), they need spatial-kinesthetic action, technical and mechanical content, and graphic and visual (Gurian) stimulation. This is exactly how I focused the content of Ghost Medicine... because I wanted boys to read again... like we used to when I was a boy.

So far, as I said, the boys have been really enjoying the novel... and the girls like it, too (see my previous posts).

I've spent a lot of time talking with my dear friend Kelly Milner Halls about this subject, and she feels passionately about this as well. In fact, I wish I'd said it about my own reasons for writing Ghost Medicine but she summed it up far more eloquently than I could. To quote Kelly:

"There are kids dying out there -- inside. They feel isolated and alone and hopeless because everyone else loves what's typical, but they can't find a literary connection. I do what I do because I was one of those kids, and someone has to look out for them."

So I'm on a mission, as a member of a fairly quiet minority: a male author. Look at the lists... there are not too many of us out there, and we've got to do something to give boys back the literary connection they once had. Thanks for putting that so well, Kelly.

By the way, I'm lucky enough to have a son and a daughter. Both of them are young, still in public school. And I celebrate their differences, the unique "girlness" and "boyness" of each of them. If my daughter ever wanted to box, I'd find her the best trainer. And if my son ever wanted to knit, I'd encourage him to learn that, too, because it's not about me, it's about their ownership of their learning. And I am very happy to say that my ten-year-old daughter knits, my thirteen-year-old boy does not... and both of them pack a pretty dang good punch.