Johnny won’t read because books assigned in class don’t appeal to male interests, write Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky in the Washington Post. Surveys show “boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy.” Boys don’t like to read stories that feature girls, but girls often choose stories that appeal to boys.
Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding “masculine” perspectives or “stereotypes” than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.
At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying. Older literary fare has also been replaced by something called “culturally relevant” literature — texts that appeal to students’ ethnic group identification on the assumption that sharing the leading character’s ethnicity will motivate them to read.
Boys lose interest in reading, and the gender gap in reading widens.
I used to love to read adventure stories, history and biographies, and had no trouble imagining myself as the inevitably male lead. Of course, I loved fantasy and romance too. I read everything. I do see many kids who haven’t discovered books that they enjoy reading.
Update: On a sort of related topic, the University of California denied transfer credit to a Monterey Peninsula College course called Literature By and About Men on grounds the course was too narrow and didn’t match any course offered at UC. Instructor David Clemens writes on No Indoctrination.org:
While I don’t question U.C.’s woeful admission that not even one campus offers a course in literature by and about men, U.C. does accept, for lower division transfer from community colleges, such English courses as “Images of Women in Western Literature” from Saddleback, “Contemporary Women Writers” from Santa Barbara, “Women Writers” from Foothill, “Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Multicultural Voices in Literature” from Diablo Valley, “Women in Literature” from Santa Rosa, “Images of Women in Literature” from Santa Monica, “Changing Images of Women in Literature” from Butte, “U.S. Women’s Literature” and “Her Story: Women’s Autobiographical Writing in Multicultural America” from Chabot, “Literature By Women” from Sierra, and “Literature By and About Women” from Shasta, among dozens of other clearly gender-specific literature surveys.
After Clemens publicized the rejection in the blogosphere, UC reversed itself and agreed to give transfer students credit for the course.