I love Nicholas Kristof’s reporting, from the genocide in Darfur to the empowerment of women business owners in Pakistan to malnutrition of infants in India, the man covers the world better than any other journalist.
With so much love for the man I hate to write this but what was he thinking with this Sunday’s column (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/opinion/28kristof.html?th&emc=th) ? The basic premise of his column was boys are lagging behind girls in reading and verbal skills; a devastating problem that can be fixed with books based on wrestling and explosions.
Kristof admits that “men are still hugely overrepresented in Congress, on executive boards, and in the corridors of power” but he sees this trend of boys losing ground on verbal skills as a serious danger to America’s education system and the future for our men in power.
And although I agree with Kristof’s final conclusion of “our future depends on making the best use of human capital we can, whether it belongs to girls or boys,” I can’t agree with his mode of transportation to this future of talented human capital. I do not believe that “nurturing boys with explosions” through action-laden books is the going to make boys’ verbal IQ jump through the non-existent ceiling.
First, let’s examine the inequality. Although girls outperform boys in reading and verbal skills, boys still beat girls in math, an inequality plaguing every generation since standardized tests were invented. Where boys used to beat their female counterparts in every subject, they now lag behind in reading where girls have flourished. And why have girls flourished? Perhaps because they are told they can. Reading is a subject socially acceptable and even mandatory for girls to excel in just as math is a subject socially divvied out to boys. The bulbs flourish and grow where you plant them. Tell girls they are naturally good readers an they will be better readers. Tell boys they aren’t and that reading is a “girl thing” than all the explosions in the world won’t save your boys’ verbal SAT score.
Second let’s look at the solution: more “appealing” books for boys or more gender-stereotyped “male” books. The solution to ending a problem created by the bifurcation of gender should be solved by further bifurcating the genders. While we are handing out the fart books to boys why don’t we just give the girls “the joy of cooking” and call it a successful gender-defined day? Boys don’t need action books anymore than girls need math problems written out in purple glitter pens. They need more encouragement and attention given to reading early in life; they need to feel like as boys they can still be readers of any genre (body-function genres included).
And finally, let’s not forget that girls still lag behind in math and science, a fact that is just as detrimental to our “human capital” as boys lower verbal scores. I don’t have a quick and easy solution to the gap (although algerbra taught by my little pony would be cool). What is needed is a shift in how we look at education. We should not be trying to teach by gender but trying to engage children in learning through what their interests are. Maybe Joey really likes history; get him to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Maybe Susan really likes building blocks; show her what a 90 degree angle is. Our children’s education and the books they read should not be determined by their gender but by their true interests. And although it would be much easier to say all boys like explosions and farts (or exploding farts hahaha) and all girls like fairy tails and ponies, our children, thank god, are not that simple.