Friday, May 2, 2008

cats, dogs, boys, girls (part 2)

You read sometimes about the one girl who goes out for the high school football team, and if she’s lucky, or can put up with all the abuse, she might make a kicker position.

Somewhere beneath it all is probably a valuable lesson about feeling like a minority, or, harsher still, an outsider. But I asked a group of high school seniors (just weeks away from graduation) why they thought that girls were now more likely than boys to graduate college, and much more likely to go on to seek advanced degrees at graduate school.

And this was by no means a slouchy group of kids... among them were students who have been accepted to next year's incoming classes at Stanford, MIT, West Point, UCLA, and Berkeley, just to name a few of their schools. Ultimately, our discussion turned toward reading and writing, and why boys' scores are dropping so dramatically in those categories on testing.

**Side-note: These kids know I'm an author, and many of them have asked for a galley copy of Ghost Medicine, but the only kids I've given it to so far have been boys who are labeled as "reluctant" (or non) readers -- more of that to follow.**

What was amazing to me is that the boys and the girls in the group all had very thoughtful answers that seemed to agree that:

1. Boys are being forced to read things that are not very "boy-friendly."
2. In writing assignments (especially creative writing), sometimes the boys are not allowed to write about certain things, specifically things that might have... let's just say... too much action or energy. In evaluative writing, the boys complain that they are forced to be too introspective... to reflect on things when they'd rather just get straight down to the facts.

One boy told me that he really loved reading, but the kinds of post-reading assignments that were given in school (the reflective, role-playing, "pretend-you're-Calpurnia-and-write-a-diary-entry" kind) made him resent reading.

Anyway, this is all anecdotal observation. I'm not trying to write a research paper here. I'm just talking to the kids.

But I have some strong feelings about boys and reading and how boys are being outpaced in college admissions, scholarships, and graduation. And I think those things have everything to do with why boys aren’t reading when they’re in their teens... because they've been pushed away from it. Because they're dogs who are expected to purr and meow, or vice-versa... you get my drift.

One of the reasons boys don’t read is that the content that is aimed at them generally misses the target. Boys aren’t stupid, though. But they are a potential market that is overlooked in fiction, which is heavily lopsided toward girls. There are so many books about girls and series about girls and books that come with free companion necklaces or earrings or dolls for girls.

But I don’t think it would go over well socially if I gave out free chewing tobacco or tattoos with Ghost Medicine, even though the boys chew tobacco and get tattooed in the book. Well... maybe I could give out the tattoos if they’re the wash-off kind. And they’d be real cool too... snakes and horses and guns and nooses... the kinds of things boys would think are cool.

But, what do I know? I’m just a guy.

I wrote Ghost Medicine because I wanted boys (my son, in particular) to have a book about boys who actually ACT like boys. They pick on each other and tease, they fight, they shoot at things, they sneak away and chew tobacco and drink alcohol... but they're still good boys, and they do some heroic and noble things for each other. It's honest, funny, and it's sad, too.

Coming up, I'll be writing about a little experiment we have planned at high school. It involves reading Ghost Medicine and a segregated boy-only group of very reluctant teen readers.