There is a rising gender gap between boys and girls in reading in the U.S. that’s been catching attention recently. Evidently this reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents. I find this disparity interesting in light of the plight of girls in many third world countries for the actual privilege to learn to read, period. (See “…Stones into Schools”, a previous post.) Beginning back around 1992, in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. This article by Thomas Spence from Sept. 24th, 2010's Wall Street Journal makes some wise observations: "How to Raise Boys Who Read: (Hint: not with gross-out books and video games)".
Many professionals agree that the problem is that boys don’t read enough, thus they don’t become as proficient. In answer to that, many publishers are trying to meet the boys where they are, and in so doing have found much success with grossness and outhouse humor. The attitude of “just get ‘em reading and worry about what they read later” is easy to buy into, but so short-sighted. “One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far,” points out Mr. Spence.
I really like how the article responds to writers, publishers and teachers aiming so low. “Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised ‘so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education.’"
Spence continues: “’Plato before him,’ writes C. S. Lewis, ‘had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful.’ This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that? How much easier to meet children where they are.”
Then Mr. Spence arrives at what he sees as our trouble. "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?"
Sounds like we should consider how much time our children spend in front of screens. Filling more hours and more shelves with books rather than electronic options could be a good idea.
By the way, he makes a good statement for homeschoolers in the end, pointing out that there is no such boy-girl literacy gap appearing in home-schooled children.