Reading Gender Gap

We’ve known two things about boys for some time- they’re falling behind girls at an alarming rate and the gap is widening. Enter “Boys: The Weaker Sex” in The Economist:

The reversal is laid out in a report published on March 5th by the OECD, a Paris-based rich-country think-tank. Boys’ dominance just about endures in maths: at age 15 they are, on average, the equivalent of three months’ schooling ahead of girls. In science the results are fairly even. But in reading, where girls have been ahead for some time, a gulf has appeared. In all 64 countries and economies in the study, girls outperform boys. The average gap is equivalent to an extra year of schooling.

And here’s the clincher:

The OECD deems literacy to be the most important skill that it assesses, since further learning depends on it.

Our challenge is easy to define and seemingly impossible to solve. Most boys have a reading problem due to the fact that video games and Internet browsing yield instant- though debilitating- rewards to their undeveloped brain. But reading is the gateway to all learning due to the magnetic characteristic of wonder. Wonder pulls us in and reading is the tool whereby wonder is ignited.

C.S. Lewis used to talk about the grief of learning verbs and parts of language, contrasting it with the stunning adventure that awaits once we transcend that stage and get into the actual wonder of reading. My dad needed glasses at an young age due to hiding under the covers- long past bedtime- and reading by flashlight. Most boys are stuck at the ‘parts of language’ stage, where reading is all work and no wonder.

Check out these ideas to help them gain traction:

  • Downshift. Create deliberate time and space to escape the speed of technology reward (TV, Video Games, Internet are all reward and no work). Schedule low tech windows where initial boredom and parental involvement mandate reading. (Vacation, Low-Tech-Tuesdays, etc)
  • Use books as the gateway to wonder with extremely strict controls on wonder-smashing-porn.
  • Research books in keeping with your son’s stage-of-life curiosities
  • If the content appears to be ‘too much, too soon,’ use this parental discomfort to enter their lives in discussion. I’d rather have boys break through the age of innocence with a book of your choosing than through the guaranteed first porn moment.
  • Expose them to extreme-readers, kids who are a few years ahead of them. I met a young doctor the other day who’d read through his small town library 2.5 times between 5th and 8th grade.
  • If your son loves devices, consider some type of e-reader as a dopamine dispenser for reading
  • Develop a plan for the tweet, Facebook post, email world as it does involve writing and reading skills (even with it’s obvious limitations)
  • Pay for reading. This works for many families, often delivering kids from the ‘reading is work’ to the ‘reading as wonder’ stage. Get over the short-sighted sense that this is backwards. Their entire educational future hinges on the ability to read. Think of scholarships, graduate assistance, job market, career advancement.
  • Play the reading-writing relationship. Want to write better? Read a lot. Want to read better? Write.

Ordinary Girls

The average girl faces a new enemy- a presence so hovering that it feels inescapable:

“If I live a modest and normal life, I’ll remain invisible, unnoticed and forever confined in the prison of ordinary.”

The solution- as offered by media heroines, peers and older examples- is to do whatever it takes to be both rescued and the rescuer. Enter the runaway fiction of our era: Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent, 50 Shades of Grey. The following excerpt is from LifeSiteNews and is the best explanation to date as to the explosive bestsellers:

The characters of Bella [from Twilight] and Ana [50 Shades…] are both written as almost blank slates, onto which readers can project their own personalities. All we know about each girl is that she’s ordinary – like, so ordinary that if you looked up the word “ordinary” in the dictionary, you would find their pictures – only you wouldn’t; you’d find a little mirror reflecting your own face back at you, because that’s the entire point. You’re meant to insert yourself into the story, and suddenly it’s you, in all your banal lack of glory, who has proven irresistible to these powerful, godlike, beautiful, deeply damaged men, and only you can help them find their humanity again.

But the truth is, anyone who has ever felt unremarkable or invisible for any reason can put themselves in Ana’s shoes and understand her thrill at being chosen – her, of all people! – by a man with so much power he might as well be God. And anyone who has ever tried to love someone out of a dangerous lifestyle – be it addiction, violence, self-harm, risky sexual behaviors, or heck, vampirism (you never know) – can relate to Ana’s joy as her steadfast love transforms Christian from a damaged, petulant dictator into a loving husband. Ultimately, the secret to the success of Fifty Shades is that it puts the reader in the role of both the saved and the savior.

For the average girl, the disconnect happens at the level of identity where she so easily succumbs to the power of culture. 

Longing – a baby girl is born into a fallen world with two things in tension: 1) her God-instilled longing to be loved, cherished, noticed, nurturing and influential and 2) her commitment to achieve these things without Him.

Setup – Notice the influence of the Disney-Fairy-Tale genre, as it redirects her longings. She’s queued and ready for her prince to appear out of thin air.

Reality – In a culture where the sacred wonder of romance and intimacy have been taken hostage and put on pornographic steroids, the average girl becomes more invisible than ever. If she dresses herself with modesty, she moves ever in a more disparate direction.

Identity - This is the key battleground in her mind. The instant drop-down menu of sensual solutions threatens to overpower her subtle and gradual relationship building with Jesus.

The girl who develops her life and identity on the foundation of her relationship with Jesus- she will weather the storm of middle and late adolescence in a culture gone wild. The power is in her identity as I write about in iConnect: The Power of Identity in a Plugged-In World. But make no mistake, this is a slow-build, requiring deliberate parenting into the recesses of her mind. God’s truth and a daily reorientation become critical balancing acts in a digital-everywhere era that has become powerful enough to exert it’s own gravity.

Obscurity, invisibility, ordinary? Not if her imagination positions her in God’s story in multiplying complexity. Her identity becomes her power:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” – Proverbs 31:25