A recent study, published in the journal Gender Issues, is once again bringing national focus upon the significant literacy gap between US male and female students. According to the article, United Press International reports that compared with girls, “U.S. boys have lower rates of literacy, lower grades and engagement in school, and higher drop-out rates.” Judith Kleinfeld, who administered the study, told UPI that girls “do better in school because they develop verbal skills so much more easily, while boys recognize spatial differences so much more easily than girls. Boys need different things in school– much more activity, less time sitting at a desk and different types of reading– than girls.”
What is being Done About This Literacy Gap?
In the United States, unfortunately, not a whole lot. President Obama has talked generally about literacy issues. In a 2005 speech directed at the American Library Association, he states:
Right now, one out of every five adults in the United States can’t read a simple story to their child. During the last twenty years or so, over ten million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level.
But these literacy problems start far before high school. In 2000, only 32% of all fourth graders tested as reading proficient. And the story gets worse when you take race and income into consideration. Children from low-income families score 27 points below the average reading level, while students from wealthy families score fifteen points above the average. And while only one in twelve white seventeen-year-olds has the ability to pick up the newspaper and understand the science section, for Hispanics the number jumps to one in fifty; for African Americans it’s one in one hundred.
While he addresses the gap between low and high income families, as well as the gap between races, he doesn’t address the most obvious and substantial gap: that between genders.
Many literacy groups are disappointed at a recent $6 million recent tax cut aimed at the National Institute for Literacy. Countries like Canada, Australia, and Great Britain have initiated national, tax-suported efforts to boost boys’ educational achievement. The US currently has no such initiative nor plans toward such an initiative.
Why Are Boys Being Neglected?
Since the feminist movement began, there have been many federal, state, and local school district programs aimed at addressing educational problems faced by girls. It was once said that girls were never going to excel in the areas of math and science. Amazingly, the math and science discrepancy between boys and girls is now barely noticeable.
Kleinfeld notes that there are STILL a surprising number of programs aimed at increasing girls’ math and science achievement. However, there is little to no policy attention given to the substantial gender gap occurring in reading and writing, which, she says, “places males at a serious disadvantage in the employment market and in college.” Why are boys being ignored? It is probable that the common mindset is STILL that boys have an educational advantage over girls and therefore money and policy changes should not be directed toward programs to assist them. However, as we see more national coverage about male/female literacy gap, perhaps educators and policy makers will take notice and literacy programs will begin to take note of the significant literacy gender gap.
What Can I Do?
It’s always best to start campaigning at a local level. Find our who your local representatives are and write to them about your concerns.
In the meantime, pay heed to what studies about boys and reading are telling us! Remember that boys need sufficient activity and that they like different types of reading material than girls do. Remember that male-oriented classroom procedures should be instituted and that positive male role models make all the difference in the world. Finally, remember that a love of reading begins at home.