Bad News (for) Boys

Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.– Bruce Lee

In March I wrote a blog titled “Non-fiction Reading and Character.” Seeking a topic for this month’s blog, I was struck by the reports about the San Diego Comic-Con International (showcasing comic books and science fiction/fantasy books among other pop culture genres), amused by attendees’ customs and behaviors, and informed by PBS’s program on “Superheroes” in comic books.

To use a summer-time metaphor, I started “surfing” the Internet in search of more information about boys and their reading interests, habits, and skills or lack thereof.

What we know:

“Girls are reading better than boys… and the pattern is giving girls a life-long advantage…. Boys are lagging behind girls on standardized reading tests in all 50 states…In Virginia and New Hampshire, middle school girls did better than boys in reading proficiency by 15 percentage points. In New York, girls were 13 percentage points ahead…The difference now is that boys are not catching up.”

What has been observed:

Columnist Michael Kimmel writes, “I think the social scientific evidence leads in a different direction. Boys’ underachievement is driven by masculinity – that is, what boys think it means to be a man is often at odds with succeeding in school. Stated most simply, many boys regard academic disengagement as a sign of their masculinity.”

What is happening:

Did you know that the Common Cores Standards might be slanting what one reads to more non-fiction than fictional materials? Might this help boys?

The new standards envision elementary students …reading equally from literature and informational text. By high school, literature should represent only 30 percent of their readings; 70 percent should be informational. The tilt reflects employers’ and college professors’ complaints that too many young people can’t analyze or synthesize information, or document arguments.

What we should admit:

“Houston, we have a problem.” I have no idea what teachers should do about it. But I suppose that the first step is to recognize that a problem does exist for some boys in your school. You have one month before school starts. It might be of interest to you, your colleagues at school, and parents to respond to a plea by Peter DeWitt (Education Week, January 7, 2013) and author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School:

“I challenge you: Put on a ‘boy perspective’ and take a hard look at your school – from the curriculum, to the décor, to the policies and procedures. What is turning boys off and tuning them out?”

My question:

If gender matters in school and it clearly does, does character matter and if so, why and how?, August 2014