Boys miss out on joy of reading
In a contest between Nintendo and the neighbourhood, the ’hood always wins for him. This 15-year-old is a typical Canadian boy, yet he surprises in so many ways. Through his winning smile he will tell you, honestly, that kids his age spend too much time inside on the Internet.
And as your face registers surprise upon hearing this, he flashes that grin again and you simply cannot doubt him.
He is, however, typical of far too many boys in one way: He does not like to read.
Over the years, in my volunteer work, I have met a number of boys for whom books have zero appeal and, unfortunately, even a few who have confessed: “I don’t read too good.”
As a lifelong reader, this saddens me. To never know how a book can swallow you up whole, absorb you completely into the lives and worlds of other people, places and things, for as long as you like, as many times as you would like, wherever there is light and an open mind, seems to me a great loss.
But hockey is this 15-year-old’s thing, mostly because he likes to be outside and active. He hates to read because it’s “boring.”
For kinetic boys like this one, I imagine that sitting still with book in hand might seem like punishment. For a moment I am tempted to drop it, and the look on his face tells me he’s had this conversation before, and that it always ends here.
I press on, suggesting that he just needs to find a topic that interests him. “Sidney Crosby,” he answers in response to my query about his favourite player.
Recent research from Statistics Canada only confirms what I have seen in many of the boys I have met. Standardized tests consistently show girls’ literacy scores higher than those of boys.
The Ontario government has recognized a problem here and has implemented initiatives to help boys improve. That boys represent the majority of students in special education classes, are less likely to attend university, and drop out of high school in greater numbers only underscores the urgency of building strong literacy skills in our boys.
Clearly, without adequate literacy skills, a child’s future prospects are dim. Reading and comprehension are integral to everything we do, from navigating everyday tasks to excelling at higher education.
We must help boys master the necessary literacy skills to avoid early and deep wounds to their sense of selves. This is a very real hurt that I saw clearly in the eyes and behaviour of a 9-year-old I met who struggled with his reading.
Having already absorbed the label of “stupid,” he was constantly on the defensive, reflexively disrupting all that was around him. He needed a way into a world that was hidden from him.
Hopefully, his parents and teachers will expand their concept of what is acceptable to read. It does a struggling child no good if we insist on a narrow definition of reading.
Magazines, comics, manuals and instructions of all kinds should be seen as valid choices for kids who turn from traditional forms of prose. Boys (and girls) like this need a way in, if not to the pleasure of reading, at least to its utility.
I do not know if reading about a hockey star was the answer for that boy of 15, but he was open to the idea. If it is, he will then know the pleasure of letting this world pass you by for a time while you explore another. Mark Yearwood is a Toronto lawyer and writer.