Monday, September 27, 2010

Does Your Boy Read?

On Friday, I wrote about letting your children choose the books they want to read as a way to get them excited about reading. I said this with the caveat that parents retain the right to censor what their children read if they feel the material is age inappropriate or offensive.

Then, my husband handed me a timely and interesting article from The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 24, 2010). The author is Thomas Spence who is president of Spence Publishing Company in Dallas. In his article titled “How to Raise Boys Who Read” he cites a decline in the number of boys who test at a proficient level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. Apparently, on average, boys are scoring significantly lower on the test than girls and have been doing so for nearly two decades. Spence says scholars agree “if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough.” The question then becomes how to get boys to read more.

Many teachers and librarians postulate that boys are not engaged by traditional literature. Therefore, they suggest appealing to boys at their level. In response, publishers are offering newer literature that relies on maximizing the inherent funniness of gross bodily functions—farts, boogers, etc.—that appeals to young boys.

Here is where Spence diverges from these experts. He suggests that this type of content is questionable at best and does nothing to contribute to the raising of well-read, well-educated, well-rounded boys.

Spence goes on to say that another common tactic used by parents to get boys to read involves the reward of new video games. If you can agree, however, that time spent playing video games is not time spent reading, then doesn’t this approach seem contradictory or self-defeating? Offering a distraction does not seem like the best way to get your son to unplug for a while and read.

Spence’s strategy for getting boys to read and consequently raise their reading scores appears to be simple and straightforward. Guide your son toward a good book, provide him with a quiet space to enjoy it, and watch him grow. “Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man.” Thank you, Mr. Spence, for reminding us how to be better parents.

Thank you also for helping me to clarify my position. I still think that children should choose what they read. However, if you’ll remember, I recommended that you stand back and watch what they pull from the bookshelf. I did not say ignore what they choose. If, for example, your son came home from school each day and ate junk food as his after-school snack, I would hope that you would at least occasionally place a shiny apple in his hand.

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