Yesterday one of my web services sent me an article about how the authorities in Allentown, PA, are worried about a gap in reading achievement scores between girls and boys in their school system. (Link to article) Some recent tests showed that third- and fourth-grade girls are just far ahead of the boys--and the differences remain, though somewhat diminished, clear through high school.
And now the school authorities want to see if they can do something about it. Mind the gap, as I used to hear on the Tube in London. (That's the subway, not the TV.)
I think if you were to query the first person you saw on the street (or, better, the first person who didn't run away from you) about this issue, you would get explanations like these--
- Boys are more active; they'd rather punch a book than read it.
- Girls are more interior; boys, exterior. (A nice way to allude to sex organs.)
- Girls don't play as many computer games as boys do.
- Girls are nice and polite; boys are assholes.
- Schools aren't what they used to be.
- My son is a great reader--what are you talking about?
- Teachers are lazy and overpaid.
- Kids--all kids--watch too much TV, spend too much time on Facebook.
- Their parents don't read--so why should the kids?
- Books are dead. Who cares? Old technology.
- The usual suspects.
I'll confess right now: I come from a family of readers. There were lots of books in our house, and somebody was always reading them. My older brother was reading Shakespeare and Dickens and all those Russians when he was in elementary school. My younger brother still eats books like French fries. Yet there was a time in my life--during most of junior high and high school--when I didn't read at all--or very little. This alarmed my parents and delighted my brothers, who got to sit and smile at supper while my parents asked me why I wasn't reading any longer.
I guess I was ... distracted ... during those years. Sports (I was certain I would have a variety of options for professional sports--baseball, for sure; maybe even basketball). Girls. Sleep. Thinking of how little homework I could get away with doing. School plays. Girls. Sleep. Sports. Girls.
Later, in college, my reading lamp went back on--and has stayed on until this very minute. (By 8 a.m. today I'd read 100 pages of a book I'm reviewing.)
I've read--and you can read in the article--that there are perhaps some physiological reasons why boys read less (and thus score poorly). I'm sure this is true. When I was in junior high, I was just constitutionally incapable of understanding why so many girls were carrying books around--not just textbooks, but real ones. Only a few guys did that, and they were, for the most part, you know, Girly Men. Or so I thought in the thickest denseness of my most densely thick period.
I know that no one achieved any status--in those years--because of what he'd read--or because of what he was reading. Status came from (1) athletic prowess, (2) sexual prowess (or ability to feign same), (3) musculature, (4) disdain for authority. I also kind of admired guys who were good at pinball.
Sometimes, of course, we had to read. Book reports and the like. The guys I knew had two criteria for picking a volume for a required book report: (1) slimness, (2) font size (though we didn't know that word then--font). One friend just made up a book for his report--got an A on it, too, which pissed me off. Not because of the grade--but because I hadn't thought of that first. (The suspicious teacher, in the future, made us show our books as we were talking about them.)
I'm being frivolous, I know. But I think it's really not all that complicated. Boys are hunter-gatherers. It's a lot more fun to go shoot arrows at a buffalo than it is to stare at unmoving marks on a flat surface.
Nowadays--not so many buffalo. And the flat surfaces in front of us really move in exciting ways that animate the imagination--and keep us from doing homework. Or reading.
My younger brother and I were talking last weekend about how glad we were that we grew up in the age (the dying age?) of the book. I realize that if I'd been born into a world of cable TV (sports and porn, 24/7!) and the Internet and Netflix and Facebook and all, I might never have read a book. That's sad.
On the other hand, my house would now have a lot more free shelf-space.