IT is a fact that boys don’t read as much as girls, though in school our success at getting kids to read for pleasure fails for both sexes, particularly as students move from elementary to middle school and then high school. For the boys the drop off occurs early – sometimes as early as elementary school, but with a near universal occurrence by the end of middle school. We should not sugarcoat the truth: by high school 95% of our boy students do not read for pleasure, which means that they really don’t read at all unless it’s required for class, a test, or a grade. Our success with girls is better, and many leave high school maintaining the healthy reading attitudes they built in middle school and earlier, but it’s still a damagingly low number. Too many kids simply don’t read on their own and they suffer academically because of it.
Here in Colombia we have an interesting wrinkle to the usual kids and reading dilemma. Getting kids to read has no easy solution wherever you teach. Our school in Colombia is entirely bilingual; kids have both an English and a Spanish literature course. We struggle, as most bilingual schools do, with getting students to speak in English rather than Spanish. Our task is to create truly bilingual students, but since their native social language is Spanish they are far more at ease interacting in Spanish than English. Here’s the interesting part: they much much prefer to read in English. The reasons for this are related to the reasons we have a hard time getting kids to read in any school: academic reading versus pleasurable reading. In elementary and middle school, the emphasis in English is interest and choice, in keeping with Columbia University’s Reader’s Initiative (which most International American schools have adopted). Colombian schooling, on the other hand, is far more traditional, and the texts the students read are selected for their academic and cultural purpose. Students read The Hunger Games in English, The Iliad in Spanish. Moreover, our selection of English texts is varied, modern, individualized, and entertaining. Our Spanish language library is 1/10th the size of our English library, which also contains a regularly updated selection of ebooks that students can check out. Students prefer reading English books because the English books are entertaining and because they are free to choose. Continue reading “The Simple Reason Boys Don’t Read”
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, 1983
“During my time in school, I have developed many skills that teachers did not intentionally want me to learn, but in a way forced me to because of the way they teach and implement the school rules. These are basically ways to cheat the system discretely. Things such as writing a whole essay not knowing what I am really talking about and not paying attention in class but acting like I am.”
High School Junior, 2016
Here’s a few things I did in school.
- Plowed through weeks and months of class by daydreaming, doodling, playing games, reading unrelated stuff, messaging, and otherwise generally dinking around.
- Talked my way out of deadlines, extending them, sometimes indefinitely.
- Copied homework, answers, and projects, receiving credit for work I didn’t do.
- Ignored everything until the night before the exam and pulled all nighters to finish essays.
- Made judicious use of sources to pad and lengthen my sloppy writing and reasoning.
- Lied to teachers about my mental state, or home state, or some kind of state, in order to avoid consequences and work.
- Learned to nod when applicable, look ahead for the answer to the question that was coming my way, write down responses after they had been given out by others, and generally DO as little actual work as absolutely necessary to still pass the class.
By the end of high school I was really, really good at a lot of this. I could read a teacher’s sympathy or mood or general demeanor like a politician. I had a solid, workable bank of excuses and avoidance techniques. I could lie so convincingly I believed my own lies. I eagerly joined group projects because I knew another student, one more interested in higher grades than I, would do most of the work for which I would receive credit. I mostly mastered the art of determining the minimum work needed to escape scrutiny and still get a passing grade. (On occasion I misjudged.) I even developed a solid folder of techniques for making it appear that I’d done far more work than I actually performed. I developed as well a genuine, heartfelt disdain for work itself, for anything that smacked of repetitive deliberate effort, self-improvement, or vague purpose. Continue reading “School Teaches Students How To Be Bad Workers”