Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Raise Boys Who Read

How to Raise Boys Who Read
Hint: Not with gross-out books and video-game bribes.

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

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test.

The good news is that influential people have noticed this problem. The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.

Everyone agrees that if boys don't read well, it's because they don't read enough.

But why don't they read?

A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the "stuffy" literature they encounter in school. 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. "Just get 'em reading," she counsels cheerily. "Worry about what they're reading later."

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."

"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.

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.

So why won't boys read?

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?

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter's husband—Raymond Bean or Robert Louis Stevenson?

I offer a final piece of evidence that is perhaps unanswerable:

There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls.

How many of these families, do you suppose, have thrown grossology parties?


MamaMahnken said...

I was just thinking about this the other day. When you read old books, the young boys have always read Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights and biographies of Washington and Napoleon. Hard reads that they nevertheless were fascinated by and read over and over. So yeah, I'd agree that most modern experts view of the subject is pretty backwards.
As for the "unanswerable evidence..," well.... :D

Iliketheduggars said...

Curious -- is education understood to be training for freedom for girls, also?

Or is that why, in many ultra-conservative Christian homeschooling circles, higher education for girls is discouraged?

Ginger said...

Please note: the article was not written by a Christian or a homeschooler. It was written by the president of Spence Publishing Company.

Personally, we do not discourage higher education for our girls. We encourage them to pursue knowledge throughout their lives. Careers that would force my grandchildren to be left in daycare all day-- that we do discourage. :)

Crystal said...

So timely as I have been learning so much about literacy. Good thoughts.

Here to Serve Him... said...

We have two girls, one of which is sixteen years old and is a junior in high school. She has a great LOVE for reading, not for the sake of "education" but for the simple reason that delving into a wholesome book is relaxing, nurturing, enlightening and adventuresome. This year she is doing a literature based study in both History and in American Lit. Kyle and I desire to feed her love for solid literature as it teaches her in an out-of-the-box way the reality of in the past...a life of simplicity. It has been so fruitful to see her grow in her knowledge of living, not for the sake of education but for the sake of shaping her into the woman of God He has created her to be. So many people ask her the infamous question, "What are your future plans? What do you plan to do when you get out of high school? Where do you plan to go to college?" When she replies, "I have many interests yet I am seeking God as to the direction He desires for my life to go," they look at her like, "Oh, so in other words you have no goals." It's very disheartening to her that "seeking God" is looked so far down upon, even in the eyes of so many Christians. One of her main concerns is that if she pursues a "career" and completely finds a passion and drive for that "career", the temptation to put God and family at a distant second/third would be great. She is a perfectionist, goal-setter, first born at heart and she knows the weak areas of her heart. Like all of us, her spirit is willing yet her flesh is weak... She is seeking God as to HIS divine call on her life and in the process she is reading, learning, changing, growing and transforming more every day into an image of her Creator. It's not about which gender is acceptable to strive for higher education, it's about making the most of and nurturing the lives the Lord has blessed us with. Regardless of what our girls decide to do, the Lord will use the wholesome literature that they read to mold them into the women of faith He created them to be. Regardless of what they do/become or where they go, my greatest desire is that they follow in complete obedience to their Maker...