Why Are Boys Not Reading More?

Image - iStockphoto: Monkey Business Images
Image – iStockphoto: Monkey Business Images

‘We Are Not Creating Male Readers’

I would suggest to you that we have shared responsibility here — teachers, parents, authors, and publishers.

Literacy is the kingpin skill of school success. Unless we get all kids reading, they’re not going to be successful.

Peg Tyre - The Trouble With BoysThat’s Peg Tyre, author of The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do (Harmony, 2008).

A highly regarded journalist — her book was predicated by herNewsweek piece, The Boy Crisis — Tyre spoke Thursday (28 May) at the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF)Digital Book Conference at BookExpo America (BEA).

There is a pipeline that carries all students … from kindergarten to college. And there are key junctures where boys are falling out of that pipeline, even being squeezed out of that pipeline.

Tyre appeared with Francie Alexander, Senior Vice President of Scholastic Education and Scholastic’s CAO (chief academic officer), who presented analysis from Scholastic’s very informative  Kids & Family Reading Report.

I titled our session “Readers left Behind: The Gap Between Boys’ and Girls’ Reading.”

Together with the “Youth and Teen Reading” session we had at the conference with Nielsen’s Kristen McLean, hosted by PubCoder’s Paolo Albert, we were able to bring some issues into focus around young readers. Here is a write-up at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook on McLean’s session. And you may be interested in McLean’s coming Children’s Book Summit, 16th September.

Why is publishing leaving half the world’s money on the table by not aggressively courting male readers?

I was particularly glad to be able to program the Tyre-Alexander session on boys and reading into the conference because, as many of my readers know, the gap between male and female readers, at all ages, is something that I believe is far more alarming than many in publishing want to admit.

As I said in introducing this session, even if you put aside the cultural concerns about boys and men reading less than girls and women, you still haven’t answered the profit question: why publishing is leaving half the world’s money on the table by not aggressively courting male readers? Such a stance makes no business sense.

Imagine that in some bizarre Twilight Zone episode, we all awoke tomorrow to find that guys were no longer driving cars. What would happen? No-brainer: car manufacturers would be in overdrive (sorry) by lunchtime. There would be massive campaigns to “Get Our Guys Back Behind The Wheel!” and “Give That Boy The Keys Tonight!” Wild discounts would be offered for cars bought by men. Special-ed courses would spring up at every vocational college and community center: “Our Dudes Are Driving (Not Driven)!”

Too crazy? Okay, then simply imagine what would happen if women and girls were the ones not reading. Would the response be so muted? I doubt it. Women have rightly cultivated reading as a pivotal feature of a good life and an independent spirit. And publishers understand women as their primary consumer base. I say why stop there?

Why does the publishing industry seem to shrug about this problem of guys not reading? Are publishers so ready to capitulate to gaming and TV and Spotify? Or are there other factors in play here? I’ve addressed some of the possibilities in a very successful exchange with an audience at The Muse and The Marketplace in Boston. I hope to write up that event soon. And I’ll be talking about this in a special presentation at Elizabeth Jennings’ Matera Women’s Fiction Festival in September.

At Thought Catalog, I’ve written to the topic several times: here, for example, in relation to Mark Zuckerberg’s A Year In Books program, and in regards to children’s literature. I appreciate the work that author Jonathan Emmett is doing on the topic, and commend his writings to you about the problem as it relates to children’s picture books. Here’s his well-named Cool Not Cute! site.

Gender issues are so emotionally charged today that I’ve found it takes a lot of nerve simply to engage in this important public debate. This makes me appreciate all the more the studied insights, the even-handed discussion, and the urgency that both Alexander and Tyre are bringing to this critical issue.

Many years ago, a rather shy friend of mine handed a flower to the vocalist Jane Olivor when we were seeing one of her cabaret performances. She thanked him, saying, “It takes a strong man to bring a rose.”

These days, I’d say it takes a strong woman to talk about how we’re not creating male readers. I honor this strength in our two speakers. I’m grateful they were willing to take time from their work to speak at our conference at BEA. This session was a distinct highlight, marked by compassion, plain speech, and frank intelligence.

Peg Tyre:

I’m fascinated by who reads and who doesn’t. I’ve become convinced that literacy, deep literacy — reading, writing, speaking, and listening — are the skills we’re going to need [for] our children to move into the digital age.

Peg Tyre
Peg Tyre

Isn’t learning to code an option? — especially considering the male dominance in technology?

No, it’s no substitute for deep literacy, Tyre answers.

We can use coding. A lot of people can learn code. But learning to read and write and speak and listen in any circumstance under any conditions is probably the thing that’s going to keep our children, our boys, our girls, employed.

At the Digital Book conference, Tyre took on the role of filling in “shoulder research” around the Scholastic material Alexander offered, shedding light on what’s behind today’s crisis in boys’ and men’s reading patterns:

We know that boys come into school, kindergarten, having spoken fewer words and having fewer pre-literacy experiences than their female counterparts. They’ve been to the library less. They’ve been read to less. It’s not clear from the data whether this is some kind of parental sexism…but we know that they come in with fewer of those experiences than girls.

That gap between boys and girls grows wider — grows wider — with every day that they’re in school. Our public schools are exacerbating that gap.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:  Why Are Boys Not Reading More? And Is Publishing Addressing The Crisis?

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com



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