April 21, 2008

Good Fathers Read to Their Sons

One of my sisters mailed me a copy of Jim Trelease's book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, originally published in 1979 and now in its sixth edition. Trelease's thesis is that by having parents -- including fathers -- read stories or books aloud to their children, that the child's reading comprehension and academic achievement will increase dramatically. The book is well researched (the following passage alone contained five footnotes, which I've omitted), but many of the facts presented are eye-opening -- and disturbing -- to say the least. The problem is that many American families have placed the burden of the parent reading aloud to their children on the mother. Not that this is completely surprising; after all, mothers are the primary care givers to children under five, regardless of whether she works or not, and he almost always is the primary bread-winner. But that doesn't mean that he can abdicate all responsibility toward his child's intellectual development. There are ways a father can encourage his child or children to read. One of my brothers-in-law, the husband of my sister who mailed me this book, takes his four children to the library once a week, every week. My own father was another bookworm who often read for pleasure, whether it was fiction or non-fiction. As a child, I remember my mom telling us kids (on numerous occasions) that dad wasn't going to wake up soon because he had been reading until two a.m. And, of course, my sisters and I were always encouraged to read. (As a teenager, I often read from our World Book encyclopedia or its various yearbooks for pleasure. Yeah, I know, I was a strange kid, but I've never lost while playing Trivial Pursuit either, so there! ;) )

The following passage comes from a section entitled, How do I convince my husband he should be doing this with our children? (pp. xxii-xxiv of the Introduction). What's surprising and scary is how much American boys have slipped behind girls academically since 1970. For years, we've read articles about how the number of female students has grown in American universities, but usually within the context of a single department or degree program (e.g., law school, medical school, etc.). But apparently the problem is much more widespread. Even looking at my own university's data (Fall 2006 statistics), female students outnumber male students for both undergraduates (53%-47%) and graduates (54%-46%). (For the Honors College, the gender ratio is the same as the graduate students' ratio, 54%-46% in favor of females.) So if you parents want your sons (and daughters) to do well at school, start reading to them now... even if they're teenagers.

The second change is a huge gender gap among American schoolchildren. Since 1970, there's been a steady gain in female achievement, accompanied by a steep drop in male performance. ... In 1970, male enrollment in college was 59 percent, female 41 percent. Three decades later, it's almost completely reversed -- 57 percent female, 43 percent male.

The top 10 percent of high school classes is 56 percent female, 44 percent male; among high school graduates who maintain an A average, 62 percent are female, 38 percent male. Three out of five high school National Honor Society members are girls, and they outnumber boys 124 to 100 in Advanced Placement (AP) classes. As recently as 1987, boys had outnumbered girls in those classes. ...

We know what caused the rise in the girls' scores -- their mothers' value systems about education changed thirty years ago. Mothers now expect more of their daughters intellectually. But how do we explain the nosedive on the part of the boys since 1970? Is it a coincidence that in that same year, 1970, we saw the birth of a national TV phenomenon called Monday Night Football? Prior to that, Madison Avenue pretty much thought it was a waste of time trying to advertise to men late at night -- they were all asleep in their La-Z-Boys. Then along comes MNF and they've got millions of guys doing high fives on their chairs at 11 p.m. It didn't take long for the networks to catch on that sports at night could bring in a boatload of advertising dollars and thus was born ESPN, then ESPN2, followed by channels for golf, rodeo, NASCAR, wrestling, extreme sports -- you name it, all sports, all the time, 24/7.

The impact on the young male of seeing his dad worshiping daily and nightly at the altar of ESPN, has to have played a damaging role in male attitudes about school. Girls read and write; guys hit, throw, catch, shoot, and fish. By 2000, moms were "taking their daughters to work," but dads were still taking their sons to the stadium.

The father who can find his way only to ball games with his kids is a "boy-man," whereas the father who can find his way to a ball game and to the library can be called a "grown man." Unfortunately, we have a growing shortage of grown men in America today. Once I asked members of an audience in Decatur, Georgia, if they thought they'd ever hear a president of the United States make a statement like that to the American people, and a woman replied, "Yes -- as soon as she's elected!"

The strange thing is that this "dumbing of Daddy" seems to affect families at all education levels. In a study comparing poverty-level families and university-educated families, fathers in both groups read to the children only 15 percent of the time, mothers 76 percent, and others 9 percent. That could change if we publicized studies like one conducted in Modesto, California, which showed that (1) boys who were read to by their fathers scored significantly higher in reading achievement, and (2) when fathers read recreationally, their sons read more and scored higher than did boys whose fathers did little or no recreational reading. When the dads were surveyed, only 10 percent reported having fathers who read to them when they were children.

1 comment:

Shaik Abdul Khafid said...

Ok...this is a GOOD post. Seriously.