Friday, August 14, 2009

bringing back the boys

Okay, I'm going to talk a little bit about boys and reading today, and how we've neglected boys in our schools in the past 30 years, which accounts for a couple sad truths: First, that for the first time EVER, males make up only about 40% of university enrollment in the US; and second, boys' scores on standardized literacy and writing exams have been falling, underscoring the idea that we are somehow -- through education -- delivering a message to boys that reading and writing are not important, valuable, masculine skills.

We know that boys have different learning styles than girls, and that they traditionally, historically, and evolutionarily learned in ways that are completely nonexistent in current educational practices. Part of this is a result of changes in educational models that began occurring in the 1970s in order to lessen the educational achievement gap between boys and girls (who were lagging behind).

In other blogs, I've talked about some of the things that can be done to address the particular needs of boys; and I'm going to revisit that topic, too. But today, I just wanted to talk a bit about boys' brains and the kinds of things we have an obligation to make available to them when it comes to what it is boys want to read.

Since boys have more stuff like dopamine and testosterone flowing through their systems, they like to take risks and will attach value to reading something that elicits physical and dangerous sensations. This is not to say that girls can't handle -- or don't enjoy -- such books, but girls will also do equally as well (and better than boys by a long shot) when reading books that involve sitting still, thinking, and lots of internal, personal cross-talk.

The problem is that schools, for whatever reasons, are characteristically institutions that have no accommodation for choice. Required reading is required reading, and, in the absence of choice, bright boys with higher-than-average potential are frequently turned into non-readers because their brains and their systems simply cannot handle processing certain kinds of books.

I'd name some of the titles, but I think it would piss people off too much.

When given a choice, though, boys do naturally discover that reading is pleasurable and rewarding. That's why I posted my "Boys' Summer Reading List" a while back, and, working with the hundreds of kids I see on a day-to-day basis, I can tell you with absolute confidence that boys will and do choose to read books like Gone, The Compound, in the path of falling objects, The Black Book of Secrets, and many other titles I've mentioned in the past. Boys that have only suffered through the tedium of required reading -- no choice, anti-boy content -- as a requirement to success, won't make the decision to read, though, because all they've learned at school is how much it hurts them (physically and mentally) to read. And then they don't succeed.

And then we see male college enrollment plummet.

And all the rest of the negative consequences that go with it.

The bottom line is that schools CAN provide choice -- and do it within the context of "required" or "state-approved" curriculum, even "the classics," which schools are alarmingly abandoning -- but they generally choose not to because the provision of choice takes extra work and flexibility on the part of the institution and its faculty. This will only very rarely be initiated by the school itself (and I won't say never), without a powerful and confident advocate (like YOU, Mom and Dad) acting on behalf of our boys.

More to come.