Boys and Literacy: Practical Strategies for Librarians, Teachers, and Parents

By Elizabeth Knowles; Martha Smith | Go to book overview

What Does
the Research Say?

Conlin (2003) wrote a cover story for Business Week with a rather startling title, [The New Gender Gap: From Kindergarten to Grad School, Boys Are Becoming the Second Sex.] The article offers a summary of the recent trends seen across the nation and in most of the industrialized world at high schools and colleges. Girls are still doing better in reading, and now they are catching up in math and science. They are also participating more in clubs and activities—outnumbering boys in student government, the arts, yearbook and newspaper, academic clubs, and even sports teams. On the other hand, boys are far more likely to be found in special education classes and diagnosed with learning disabilities, emotional problems, and behavior problems. It is predicted that within this decade more undergraduate and graduate degrees will be awarded to women than men.

The article continues with some straight talk about education: Most elementary teachers are females who were educated 20 years ago, when gender was just a social function. The sit-still-and-listen mentality still reigns in many of the nation's classrooms. As a result more boys are diagnosed with ADHD and given Ritalin and other similar drugs in order for them to function in the classroom.

Mulrine (2001) published an article in U.S. News & World Report, [Are Boys the Weaker Sex?] in which she stated that boys' brains don't work quickly—they need time to ponder. She suggests that because boys' brains develop more slowly than girls' brains, it might be wise to let boys begin kindergarten a year older than girls. Mulrine also states that young boys are emotional and expressive, but it seems that parents, teachers, and peers change that by the time boys are school-aged, because the unwritten standard for boys is to hide emotions and expressiveness.

Noted children's author Jon Scieszka began a literacy initiative to call attention to the fact that boys and men are not reading. His Web site, http://www.guysread.com, offers lots of information about what is happening to boys in school and in the world in general. He challenges men to step up and become role models for boys by reading, for themselves and their sons and any other boys they come in contact with. The site has Scieszka's personal favorites and titles sent in and voted upon by boys. The lists are intended to be taken seriously by those who come in contact with boys.

Galley (2002), in an article in Education Week, commented on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in reading and writing, which put girls clearly ahead of boys in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. She also pointed out that boys are better able to have close friendships and discuss their emotions at a young age than they are later in life, when the [big boys don't cry attitude] prevails. Galley also states that same-sex classes in middle school seem to be very beneficial for boys.

In a publication for middle school faculty and administration, Voices from the Middle, Jeff Wilhelm (2001) relates that boys like to read short passages and that they prefer books with lots of visual support, humor, a different perspective, and interesting facts. Classroom libraries, librarians, summer reading, and required course reading lists do not reflect the kinds of books that boys enjoy most.

-xi-

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