It seems wherever I go, be it the hockey rink, the gym or the neighborhood happy hour, I am inevitably approached by an exasperated parent with the same question, “How can I get my son to read?”
These parents always say they don’t understand, they are big readers themselves, they read to their sons all the time, or did when they were little. Now they’re older and the only way they will read is if it is assigned at school. When did this happen? Why did this happen?, they say with the wild look that only parents of boys that spend all their free time playing Call of Duty have. The sad, frustrating truth is that, on the most part, boys just aren’t big readers.
Some might argue there are not enough books geared toward boys. Not so. There is no shortage of the typical books that attract boys such as fantasy, non-fiction, graphic novels and that new genre that teachers love to hate, gross-out books (flashback to banning The Day My Butt Went Psycho from my classroom’s silent reading time).
No, the problem isn’t that there are no books out there that interest boys, or that video games are eradicating reading (a much higher percentage of boys are attracted to video games than girls, however, the boy-girl literacy gap goes back at least 30 years, around the time of Pong and Pac-Man). While it is true that there are so many things out there that compete for boys’ attention, the same could be said of girls, who do not seem to be having the same aversion to reading.
Want to know what is the real problem? In the world of boys, from about third grade through high school and beyond, when fitting in is of the utmost importance, reading simply isn’t cool. Boys who love to read fall into two categories. Flood-pant, pocket protector-wearing nerds and boys that are so cool and charismatic that anything they do is considered okay. I believe there is a math term for this, outliers, with the vast majority of boys falling in-between. It’s safe to say that there is not a single male in that age category who wants to be viewed by their peers as a nebbish, and most boys innately know that trying to be like the uber-cool kids will only get them ridiculed. It’s a cultural problem.
Motivating boys to read will continue to be an uphill battle until boys who enjoy reading are viewed more positively by their peers. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. But until it does, please feel free to continue stalking me in the produce aisle at the supermarket.