Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Books for boys

Another interesting post on Language Log, about an item by David Brooks on gender differences in reading. I'm sure there were already proposals floating about some years ago that because girls now outperform boys at school, the syllabus should be changed to favour boys, especially with regard to choice of books for Eng. Lit..

While I mostly attended all-girl schools, up to age 14 we studied Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel Defoe and Alexandre Dumas - all "Boys' Own"-type adventure stories! It wasn't until we started preparing for O'levels that I encountered Jane Austen - and received an overdose of Thomas Hardy, because I was then living in "Hardy country" (as it happens, next door to Austen country..). It was also at that stage that we were faced with Chaucer and began to study Shakespeare academically, rather than just putting on plays as had occurred before then. I wonder where Brooks would stand on these two - perhaps he would propose "Julius Caesar" over "Romeo and Juliet", but maybe Chaucer is just too hard altogether?! (Or maybe he is just too irrelevant anyway...)

But I think Brooks' arguments may be beside the point. If boys - or anyone, for that matter - are failing at school because peer pressure makes them despise anything academic, I can't see that it would make any difference to tinker with the literature syllabus.


At 14/6/06 13:33, Blogger wanderingthinker said...

Hmm, I can't see the point of changing the selection of books for the syllabus. What is the problem, that should be solved by this? Is it, that boys should be encouraged to read, without regard of the quality of the works,and then hope for the best, that they will someday pick and read a "good" book? Or is it, that the quality of the reading material doesn't count, and they try just to achieve the formal goal, that even boys must have read at least one book per year?

At 14/6/06 23:35, Blogger qaminante said...

Apparently the argument is that (some) boys do poorly in literature studies because girls and boys like different types of books and the type girls like corresponds more to the classics that are selected for study at school. Therefore, if the syllabus were changed to correspond to boys' tastes, boys should do better (given that their comparative under-achievement is apparently a cause for concern). As you say, this might result in more boys actually reading the set books. However, if they dislike literary analysis anyway, irrespective of the type of book, then they still aren't going to do any better in exams - so I think the logic is a bit flawed.

At 15/6/06 17:33, Blogger wanderingthinker said...

I still don't get it. Call me a silly boy. Take me as an example. I am reading books like mad, and during my younger days I had a stereotypical taste in books, that means, I liked everything action, espionage and thriller. I had not the least interest in romance and psychological details. I hadn't the slightest interest in the book we had to read at school, but during my spare time, I read on average 3-4 books per week. But nonetheless, I've been always very successfull in my german classes, the teacher called that outstanding, in literary analysis. I've seen it always as a method and some practice you can learn and apply to whatever text you have been given. Besides, it would have been possibly more amusing, but pointless to do a "literary" analysis on my most loved works.

My opinion is, that you may learn different thing from different literary genres. The switch of focus from one genre to another leads to other learning goals. That means, for example, that if a boyish syllabus prefers Tom Clancy instead of Shakespear, you are going to teach other construction principles. And former generations will learn more about simple effects, than classical drama.

So the topic is not how to get boys more interested in literature, but what do we think is important to learn.


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