Are Your Reading Lists Friendly to Boys?
Sara Mosle’s review of Steven Brill’s new book, Class Warfare is featured on the front of Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, but the more interesting essay can be found on the back page.
Mosle covers the points of Brill’s book already discussed ad nauseam in the tussle between reformers and those who would prefer not to be reformed. The usual suspects are depicted playing their usual roles (Rhee, Ravitch, Canada, Weingarten, etc.). Keep moving, folks; nothing to see here.
In contract, the back page features Robert Lipsyte’s “The Lost Boys,” an essay that asks, “Why aren’t boys reading the good books being published?” Why, with the plethora of strong young adult fiction not available to the last generation, do boys still not pick up a book? Here is a topic that actually impacts education in every classroom throughout the country.
Lipsyte explores some of the prevalent theories, many of which may play a part in boys’ unwillingness to read. Boys prefer nonfiction, and schools prefer fiction. Boys aren’t comfortable exploring their emotions. Boys don’t see reading as “manly,” since it’s an occupation preferred by their mainly female teachers. Children’s author Bruce Coville suggested this idea in a talk to my school’s faculty several years ago, and while it was a surprise to the female faculty, the male faculty concurred.
When my children were in elementary school, I had to point out to their school librarian that her habit of introducing new books to kids by saying, “Here’s a book you girls will like, and here’s a book you boys will like” was unfair to both genders. Still, studies show that girls not only read more, but they read more widely than boys. And over the past 30 years, girls have consistently outscored boys in reading. In the end, of course, this disparity is a problem for both genders.
“Today’s books for boys often seem like cynical appeals to the lowest common denominator,” Lipsyte writes, adding that “boys prefer video games and ESPN to book versions of them.” The lack of books that appeal to boys is also, he says, a business decision. After all, if girls are the readers, that’s where the market is.
But roughly half of all kids in school are boys, and it’s our responsibility as school people to teach all of the kids, not just the ones who like to read. It might be a good idea as this new school year starts to review your K-12 reading lists. Are there choices? Is there plenty of nonfiction? Are there books that would appeal to boys and the men they want to grow up to be? You’ll find some suggestions at www.guysread.com and, of course, at the American Library Association’s site www.ala.org.
As an added bonus, here are Robert Patterson and Rick Riodan discussing what we can do to help boys access good reading.