Why boys don't read
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Reading resources for boys (and their parents)
Directed specifically toward boys, this site is the work of Jon Scieszka, the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. The site is described as a “web-based literacy program for boys.” It features titles from various guy-oriented categories, such as “At least one explosion” and “Boxers, Wrestlers and Ultimate Fighters.”
Teacher, librarian, and author Mike McQueen provides interviews with experts, a blog, and plenty of articles on ways to connect with boys through reading.
This site is run by an organization of parents, librarians, mentors, authors, booksellers, and others who are devoted to getting boys to read. The site includes plenty of title suggestions for all ages of boys. There is also a blog and ideas such as “reading tribes” for boys.
By Linda Jacobson
Why Johnny doesn't read
Experts cite a number of different factors to explain the crisis of boys and reading.
Today's accelerated academic demands have been hard on boys, who tend to develop more slowly than girls do, according to journalist Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind.
“The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t,” Whitmire writes. “To prepare students for a more sophisticated economy, educators wisely pushed a tougher curriculum down through the grades. Preschoolers today are confronted with challenges first graders faced twenty years ago. On the surface, that makes sense, but educators overlooked the fact that young boys aren't wired for early verbal challenges." As a result, many boys fall behind in the early grades — and never catch up.
Boys' initial developmental delays are often compounded by the way many schools approach reading. As boys reach fourth and fifth grade, the texts that they are reading become more challenging — and no longer have pictures. But boys often don’t receive the support they need to understand or interpret what they're reading, so they think they aren’t as smart as they used to be and begin to see themselves as non-readers.
At the same time, boys and girls approach reading in fundamentally different ways. Girls are more likely to enjoy relating to characters in books and often equate fiction with reading for pleasure. Boys, on the other hand, “want an immediate function for what they read and learn,” says Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, a professor of English education at Boise State University in Idaho. His books on the topic include Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys and You Gotta BE the Book. Boys need to feel a sense of competence or developing competence, and if reading doesn’t contribute to that then they won’t see much point in it. This is part of “staking their identity," according to Wilhelm.
Tobia, for example, noted that her own nephew was a reluctant reader until he wanted to learn how to do magic tricks. Then he couldn’t put the instruction manual down.
Reading experts also point out that since the majority of teachers are women, they tend to assign books that are more compelling for girls; meanwhile, boys get negatives messages from parents and teachers alike about the reading material they gravitate toward, which can often be magazines, graphic novels, and books that feature gory scenes or gross humor.
There's also the issue of role models: if a boy's father doesn't read and he's encouraged to read by his mother and by his (mostly female) teachers, he'll likely begin to see reading as something girls do. Overall, women read more than men, according to the Pew Research Center. Women are significantly more likely than men to read fiction: a study by the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 2008, for example, 41.9 percent of men reported reading literature, versus 58 percent of women. (Men are slightly more likely than women to be daily readers of current events, according to the Pew findings.)
By the time boys get to high school, large numbers are lagging behind and losing interest in reading; for many, high school reading requirements are the final straw. Says tenth grader Sanjay Mahboobani, “The huge workload that teachers give us for every book is the root of our hatred of reading.”
Wilhelm agrees. "School actually kills engagement in reading for many boys,” he says.
Next page: Screen woes and how to get boys to read