Friday, July 25, 2008

Are girls smarter than boys? The age-old debate lands on my desk

My current project is editing a book about how to teach boys to read and write. Yes, you got it: The premise is that boys and girls are biologically wired to learn differently -- and, get this -- boys develop literacy skills more slowly than girls. So we need to go easy on them, which in teacher-speak is called "differentiate instruction." And K-3 teachers need to teach them how to be good men by using picture books that contain positive male characters and positive messages about masculinity.


This project is a challenge on many levels. First of all, it's written like ass. That's right, I said it: ass. But that's what I get paid to do, un-assify it. So I'll do my best.

However, I have such a problem with the fundamental argument here, that it's all I can do to remain professional and not write queries like "Are you freaking kidding me?!" in the margins. OK, so I think we all can agree that girls are more verbally inclined than boys (which is a much nicer way to say what my husband would put it, I know), but I'm wondering is slowing down your speech, talking more loudly, and catering to boys' more active lifestyles is the way to go in most classrooms...or does this just perpetuate the "bring everyone to the middle" style of teaching that's been the norm in American classrooms for the last 10 years (thank you, GWB, and your ridiculous NCLB)?

On a personal level, though, as the mommy of a precocious, energetic 3yo boy, this book alarms me. The second part of the authors' premise states that boys have shorter attention spans and more violent interests because of TV and video games. I've read the research studies, people, so I know this is true---we're ALL developing attention troubles because of our sound-bite-infested world. But even more troubling than their ranting about the evils of cable television, the authors make these sweeping claims that seem to perpetuate the stereotypes they're trying to debunk.

Despite the flaws, though, I'm happy to have someone suggest that the way to reach boys is through good picture books. I think books are crucial to a fulfilling life, period. But I'm slightly unnerved by the authors' claims of moral education based on picture book characters. Of course all parents want to instill virtues in our children, but isn't moral education somewhat subjective? How much of it should be tackled in an elementary school classroom? I don't know that it should be totally left to the teacher, especially when the teacher is 9 times out of 10 a woman, and what does a woman know, really, about being a good man?

Perhaps this is the rub: In an ideal world the teaching of morals and how to be a good man wouldn't be left to the teacher. But we all know we don't live in an ideal world. So maybe my job here is much bigger than just editing a book.

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