Following is a guest article, written by Robert Gould, president of Big Guy Books.
Boys in Peril
Literacy rates fall, dropout rates rise. What it means to us.
There is a crisis going on in this country right now – one that threatens the very future of half our nation’s children. Yet, this dire situation persists with little or no attention from the mainstream media. The problem is that boys are falling further and further behind in their reading skills – and, as a result, they are dropping out of school at an alarming rate.
Think this kind of talk is just “alarmist” in nature? Consider these facts:
55% of College students are Girls, 45% are Boys.
11th-grade Boys now read and write at the level of 8th-grade girls. 30 years ago there was no difference.
In U.S. PIRLS tests, for reading proficiency, 4th-grade girls average 18 points above boys.
40% of fourth graders read below the basic level. 75% of them never rise above average.
By age 17, less than 6% of boys can read science, business and economic sections in the local newspaper.
On average, boys learn to read at a much slower pace than girls. Plus, we reinforce and reward other skills and behaviors in boys that are not tied to reading. Sports, video-gaming, and the social “hangin’ with friends” (without doing anything productive) are three examples of the ways boys are pulled away from reading. These facts present several problems in today’s educational system. For one thing, increased class sizes and more stressed-out, inexperienced teachers in the classroom mean that it is going to be harder to give those boys, who fall behind, the special attention they need to catch up. And, when boys (or any child, for that matter) fall behind, it begins to have a negative effect on their self-esteem.
Once the self-esteem begins to suffer, it becomes very difficult to learn anything. Now, you have boys who associate very negative feelings with school and, consequently, reading. So, that puts the male gender, which has been struggling to keep up in the first place, at an even greater disadvantage. By the time these boys get to high school, they are hardly in a good position to complete the four-year program and move on to college or a solid job.
What happens next is the unthinkable: HIGH percentages of boys drop out of school before they finish the four years of High School that are an absolute necessity for survival.
Consider this alarming information reported in The New York Times:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is considered the yardstick for academic performance because it is the only test taken all across the country. The test of 12th-grade achievement was given to a representative sample of 21,000 high school seniors attending 900 public and private schools from January to March 2005.
It showed that the share of 12th-grade students lacking even basic high school reading skills – meaning they could not, for example, extract data about train fares at different times of day from a brochure – rose to 27% from 20% in 1992.
The share of students proficient in reading dropped to 35% from 40% in 1992. At the same time, the gap between boys and girls grew, with girls’ reading skills more than a year ahead of those of boys’.
--The New York Times, February 22, 2007
So, what does this all mean to us, as a society?
It should be fairly obvious, that as the number increases, of our sons and brothers who are dropping out, the worse off we all are as a whole. Unemployed and under-educated males find themselves in trouble with the law at a much higher rate than those who finish school and move on to steady jobs or careers.
Our prisons are filled with young illiterate males who went out into the world at a disadvantage because of their lack of reading skills. To illustrate this point, let’s turn again to more disheartening statistics:
90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
90% of prison inmates in 2006 were men.
70% of prison inmates cannot read above a 4th-grade level.
In California, the percentage of children who never make it past the 4th-grade reading level is used to help gauge the number of future prisons.
66% of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
Since 1970, there has been a 700% increase in the U.S. prison population.
The cost for all the new inmates will be $27.5 billion by 2011.
There’s no end in sight, and the problem may turn out to be cyclical. How is a father going to develop a love of reading in his son if he, too, doesn’t have a high comfort level with books, doesn’t read during his own leisure time, or (in the worst-case scenario) is illiterate himself? It’s easy to see how this crisis can, and has, quickly spiraled out of control in our country.
Consider all the money poured into building new jails and locking up drug offenders. Now, imagine what might have happened if that money was put into our schools – working diligently to help our young boys get a foothold on the basic reading skills needed to survive and excel.
Is there a solution? Absolutely! We must invest a considerable amount of additional time and energy into making our boys more literate. Families simply cannot allow them to fall behind in school. And, the easiest way to do this is to build a life-long love of reading at the individual family level.
First and foremost, fathers and sons need to spend more time focusing on reading-centered activities. A father-son bond formed over any activity is a powerful one. Imagine that bond put to use for something as crucial as literacy!
Dads need to be reading role models, who not only read to their kids as much as they can, but put themselves out there as readers, as well. When a child sees his father reading around the house (instead of watching a game on TV, or working on the computer, etc.), that visualization is going to have a profoundly positive effect on the child’s own behavior.
After committing more time to reading to the boys, it is important to choose the appropriate content. Parents need to select titles that will really engage young boys. Storytelling that utilizes compelling photos and images, tales of heroes, action, history, dinosaurs or space – these elements have all been proven to engage boys at a much deeper, stronger level.
Finally, we need to play a more active role at school. Getting involved with the library and reading to your son’s class (when it is age-appropriate) are two powerful ways to show your child that you have a stake in his education and that reading matters!
As parents, during this challenging time, we must come to grips with this crisis of literacy that is facing boys in this country. Schools will be able to help our children, but not until we make strides at home! Start early. Read often. Break the cycle of literacy problems and open up a world of possibilities for your child.
(used with permission)