Girls rule, boys drool?

The meaning behind that old playground adage/taunt (which I first came across in the movie Homeward Bound when Sassy the cat says “Cats rule, dogs drool) seems to be a semi-hot topic in contemporary news.

I remember last year reading Nick Kristof’s blunt assessment, “The Boys Have Fallen Behind” where he appears to promote the “do whatever it takes to get them to read” approach.  I flinched at that.  Do we really need to meet teenage boys where they are (in that mucky adolescent mind) and provide them with low-brow humor?  Can’t we encourage them to be men?  Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed in one of my favorite journalists in the world.

Then this year, the Wall Street Journal posted an opinion article, “How to Raise Boys Who Read” which sort of took a different approach but felt unrealistic.   The idea that in this day and age you could “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” is what I’d love to do (and probably could do since I’m stubborn), but isn’t feasible for many families (especially those where both parents work).

So, what do we do?

Today while I was working at College Track, my awesome boss/supervisor challenged “I” to read Isabel Allende’s “Two Words.”  Now, “I” is a smart kid.  He’s cute, cool, confident, etc., etc.  What bugs me is if I ever showed him this article, “How to Raise Boys That Read”, he (and others like him) would vehemently defend his right to not read.  He would somehow find holes in the article’s argument (admittedly, I found many), and in the end, joke around the whole deal.  Since he’s a pretty charismatic character, all the surrounding boys (and girls) would be swayed over to his side and loudly put in their two cents arguing the virtues of video games and technology over books and how their English teachers suck and yadda yadda yadda.

This will probably ruin my argument but... Team Jacob!

How do you get around this?  There’s the smart kids who won’t read, and the not-so-smart kids who follow the influence of the smart kids.  I really doubt putting up pictures of celebrities posing with books will get them to change this mentality.  But honestly, without reading, how do you expand minds?  Honestly!

To be fair, I was that weird kid who sometimes sat out during recess reading books (until I realized pretty late in the game how uncool that was).  But I think it worked.   And I think family intervention has a lot to do with it.  Perhaps ridding the home of video games might be overkill, but I hope that when I become a teacher, I can effectively work with the family to address this issue (without of course, neglecting my own).

Gah, it makes me mad.  Smart boys who won’t grow their brains because they’re too smart to care.  Does that make sense?


8 responses to “Girls rule, boys drool?

  1. I used to read during all of my classes, to the point where one of my science teachers got upset and took my book away from me and scolded me.

  2. This is a very interesting post considering my experiences with books growing up. Throughout middle school and high school English classes, a lot of times I didn’t read simply because I didn’t find the reading material interesting. We were required to read of lot of coming-of-age books with females as the main characters and many of these books didn’t seem relevant (I actually thought it was interesting that you mentioned Isabel Allende, because I remember one of her books as one I hated reading, sorry). Corrie or Alice might disagree since we were in the same English classes in high school. I don’t know if it was in the way classes were taught or the reading material or combination of both, but in general English class didn’t feel like something relevant, inspiring, or “respectable”. For example, as much as it would make you cringe, I used to write book reports off of sparknotes and get away with it with A’s. “Smart boys who won’t grow their brains because they’re too smart to care.” Or rather, Do I really want to take lots of time to read a book, reflect on it, and finish an assignment, especially if the book doesn’t seem interesting or relevant, or just take a shortcut since it won’t matter anyway?

    My teachers were mostly female, so that may have contributed to the false perception that English class was for girls. I also remember hearing from friends in college about how they read classics in high school, and how I thought that would have been MUCH more interesting. The last two years of high school were more interesting with works like the Great Gatsby, Transcendentalists (which I now want to rediscover after visiting Concord), and Shakespeare.

    It’s only recently that I’ve appreciated reading more. This isn’t to place fault on my family, because they encouraged me to develop other skills that I use to great effect now (like critical thinking, though it was developed mostly through dialogue, and spatial skills by letting me play with my knex and lego). My parents didn’t push hard for me to read like some parents do, and I’m glad they didn’t. They let me play video games and tried to limit my hours. What changed? Finally realizing that reading can add a lot to my experience and view of life.

    That’s the key: add. Reading, like everything else, isn’t everything. Neither are video games or technology. But it’s got TONS of benefits. In retrospect, I would have appreciated if those benefits were communicated to me earlier. It’s one thing to hear that “reading is good for you” but it’s another thing to realize that “reading will help ME.” (learn something, do something, understand the world more, entertain me, give me something to talk about with people, etc. etc.) So with regard to how boys “waste” their time (but with quotes, because some of those things aren’t treated fairly), I don’t think the focus should be so much on restricting those (although limits are good), but providing a positive incentive to read as well. That way it isn’t just following the rules (good luck trying to force a teen into that) to do something painful but something that’s interesting, relevant, and fun at the same time.

    The final opinion I want to offer: maybe the seeming gap between girls and boys in school is a reflection of a bigger problem, the lack of masculine examples. This really goes back to my experience with middle and high-school English classes. I wish someone had demonstrated to me that it is okay to be a boy and to love reading (and that there’s tons of reading that doesn’t involve coming-of-age women and how men are generally bad, abusive, oppressive, etc. etc.) I wished more of my readings had genuinely masculine heroes I could aspire to be like or themes of masculinity I could relate to. I think in the future, if I have a son, one of the most powerful ways I could communicate the value of reading to him would be to read myself.

    Just don’t expect me to read off of Oprah’s Book Club anytime soon.

    • Lots to mull over. I don’t think I disagree, really, and I’ve discussed the issue of “heroine” books with colleagues… where it seems that in the present we choose books based on male protagonists because boys are harder to please than girls (and girls are less likely to refuse to read – although they do complain).

      I think there’s a time and place for sparknotes and wikipedia – but I’ll save that for some other time.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  3. I think it’s just a matter of finding books you like to read and starting from there. I don’t ever remember enjoying anything the school ever assigned K-12, but I liked reading a lot of books on my own at the library. For me, an engineering/business/practical person who hated humanities, I loved books about adventure, war and mystery.

    The first article you linked to is talking about the utilitarian/economic need for boys to read, so I’ll go off on that point. Like Gideon said, there’s a lot more to development than just reading. Reading is the first stage rocket – it’s not the end goal, but the foundation that propels you forward. Critical thinking is what you really want to strive for, and you need good reading skills to achieve good critical thinking skills. I remember a lot of classmates from elementary-high school who were much better at reading than I was, but aren’t as economically competitive as I am right now. Maybe it’s a manner of me being a late bloomer, or maybe it was that my brain was predisposed to think in a certain way that just didn’t jive with the books that my teachers wanted me to read.

    The American economy doesn’t reward people who merely retain and understand information, but people who can quickly change frames of thought. From being in the work force a bit, I’ve come across the “educated idiot” – someone well learned and holding college degrees, but gets embarrassed intellectually by high school grads.

  4. but anyway, cool blog. I think this if the first time I ever came across it?

  5. Pingback: A conversation between “C” and I | forks and hope, smiles and soap

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s