“Scheme” to get boys “reading”

by danhon

Right, this is the kind of thing that really pisses me off. From BBC News Online:

Scheme aims to get boys reading

Secondary schools in England are being given free books for their library, in an attempt to get teenage boys reading.

Schools will be able to select 20 books from a Department for Education and Skills list drawn up by librarians.

I’ll do this quickly, just to get it over and done with. For starters, I’m really not happy with this whole concept of boys “not reading”. How do we know boys aren’t reading? Or that they’re not reading enough? Let’s find out from the article:

Education Secretary Alan Johnson, said: “We know there is a clear link between reading for pleasure and academic performance – not just in English, but across the whole curriculum.

Ah, but what is this “reading” of which you speak? Are you talking about reading books, by any chance? Or are you talking about reading in general?

“Beyond this, of course, reading can enrich their lives by freeing their imagination, inspiring creativity and developing intellectual curiosity.

Still not clear whether he’s talking about books or reading in general.

“Boys tend to read less than girls, and some lose the reading bug completely after they change schools at 11.

Says who? I don’t have a problem with anyone saying that boys read less than girls if there’s evidence to back it up (and I’m sure, undoubtedly that there is such evidence out there), but this kind of vague statement really pisses me off.

“This initiative will help boys re-acquire the reading habit, and try out a wider range of great books.”

Ah. So we are talking about books then. And therein lies the rub.

The issue I’ve got here is that we’re talking about reading in terms of books, and books only. Books are but one way, nowadays, for kids to read for “pleasure or academic performance”. Books are but one way of consuming written information that can “free imagination, inspire creativity and develop intellectual curiosity”. And let’s be clear here that by “freeing information, inspiring creativity and developing intellectual curiosity”, we’re talking about approved, proscribed forms of such freeing, inspiring and development.

I’ve got a major problem with this because we’ve quite plainly seen that teens – boys and girls alike – are taking advantage of the internet and new forms of communication like a duck to a body of water. They’re IMing, they’re texting, they’re posting videos online, hell, they’re even bullying each other. And yes, I know that I’m not point to much evidence here, but what I will do is point to my good colleagues at MediaSnackers and edublogs.

Kids aren’t reading books because they see books as boring. They’re seeing books as these static things. Books have their place, but I really resent the implication that “reading” means “reading books” and that any attempt to get boys to become more literate which is what this initiative really appears to want to do, doesn’t necessarily have to involve books.

S0 what’s this initiative doing?

Schools will be able to select 20 books from a Department for Education and Skills list drawn up by librarians.

The collection includes classic novels such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and factual books like Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

There are also spy and adventure books, as part of efforts to close the “reading gap” between boys and girls.

These include Nightrise by Anthony Horowitz, a supernatural thriller and Bloodsong by Melvin Burgess, a futuristic science-fiction thriller.

Other choices are Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Jeremy Clarkson’s I Know You Got Soul.

The scheme – Boys into Books – is principally aimed at boys aged between 11 and 14, because research suggests boys enjoy reading at primary school but lose interest after the age of 11.

The project will be officially unveiled by Schools Minister Jim Knight at the School Library Association’s school librarian awards in Birmingham.

Chief executive of the SLA Kathy Lemaire said: “Getting boys reading is something that occupies the minds of school librarians on a regular basis, and many of them find interesting and novel ways of doing this.

“However, fundamentally, it’s the books that count. The right books need to be there when someone wants to read them.”

So what are these kids going to do once they’ve got these books in their school libraries? Which, at least from my secondary school experience, wasn’t exactly an enticing place, nor one which I particularly wanted to go to in order to seek out reading material.

Get these kids, these boys writing. Find out about what they read online. Find out what they read in terms of magazines. Find out what actually brings meaning to their lives and instead of having a DFEE selected list drawn up by librarians, have a list of any source material – any – that can be accessed by these kids. And then have them talk about! Have them blog about it, develop apps so they can collect their books on their facebook profiles – and remember, these shouldn’t just be books. They’re any written source material because, forgive me for making assumptions, this campaign’s supposed to encourage literacy and combat a declining in reading. And then to cap it off? Do something like what Penguin are doing – and start building a social network for kids to talk about what they’re reading.

Grr.