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.