Feminist Philosophers

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Early reading: clashes with boyish gender roles November 25, 2007

Filed under: critical thinking,gender,science — Jender @ 11:55 am

 morechocolatebook.jpg  Lilian Katz, of the University of Illinois, is arguing that children should not be taught to read before the age of five-and-a-half.  

Children are too young to learn to read when they first start school in the UK, an academic claims.  She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.” Dr Katz, who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.          

But, she says, it’s especially bad for boys:

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”Boys are expected to be active and assertive but during formal instruction they are being passive not active. In most cultures, girls learn to put up with passivity earlier and better than boys.”           

OK, let’s try to reconstruct this argument, as charitably as possible.

  • (1) Boys are taught to be active and girls are taught to be passive.
  • (2) Formal instruction requires passivity.
  • (3) Reading is taught formally.
  • (4) Learning to read early is difficult.
  • So (C1) Boys won’t be very good at formal instruction, which will make learning reading harder for them than it would otherwise be.
  • (5) Boys will get discouraged by early efforts at reading, and this will put them off reading for life.
  • (C2) Boys shouldn’t be taught to read early. 
  •  One problem with this argument is that the very passage quoted indicates that early readers do well on early tests and then, when older, *no better* than late readers. This doesn’t look like they’re getting discouraged at all. (Though maybe the article is poorly excerpting her work: perhaps overall the early readers do just as well, but the boy early readers do less well.)  But further problems include the total lack of reflection on premises (1) and (2 and 3). Re (1): Why on earth should Katz treat active and passive gender roles as if they’re unchangeable? (She doesn’t seem committed to the thought that they’re biologically fixed.) Re (2 and 3): Why not teach in such a way that students learn less passively? In sum, WTF?  But just in case she’s right I’m off to burn all of my 2-year-old son’s books.  Wouldn’t want to risk putting him off reading. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

     

    9 Responses to “Early reading: clashes with boyish gender roles”

    1. [...] robhyndman.com wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt  [IMG morechocolatebook.jpg]  Lilian Katz, of the University of Illinois, is arguing that children should not be taught to read before the age of five-and-a-half.   Children are too young to learn to read when they first start school in the UK, an academic claims.  She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more [...]

    2. Joe Says:

      Though I admit that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” I knew how to read at the age of two, and whatever else it may have done to me it has not made me passive.

      (JenDer’s brother, who speaks Spanish better now, thanks ;-)

    3. oceallaigh Says:

      Unwise, I think, to let a press report, even a BBC report, stand in place of Katz’s primary publications as a means of knowing what she’s on about.

      My recollection is that the phenomenon Katz is alleged to be addressing is fairly well known – some children start earlier, some later, all of equal ability tend to wind up in the same place. Which is why some ancient societies (the Hebrews, if I remember correctly) delayed all formal education (for males anyway) until after puberty.

      The big problem is trying to turn the very individual business of teaching a child into an assembly line. Because assembly lines are cheap, and individual care expensive. Hey. It’s only our children we’re talking about.

    4. Jender Says:

      If that’s all she’s saying, then the gender stuff doesn’t make *any* sense at all. You’re right that it’s worth going to the source but I’m not finding the time right now! Hey Joe– you’re right. Definitely not passive. But whaddaya expect? Your mother wears army boots.

    5. Jender-Mom Says:

      Actually, I wear jungle boots (and carry a machete)….it really is a jungle out there.

    6. JJ Says:

      I had a bit of a look around the web and through my library for “lilian katz”. I didn’t find a great deal, because she is in a very different area. However, the following seemed clear:
      1. She is a very respected figure.
      2. She seems to have bought in entirely into Gopnick’s view that children are little scientists trying to make sense of their environment through experimentation.
      3. She is willing to recommend very wide-spread changes in educational practice based on recent theories. (I find this VERY scary.)
      4. She does feel that since the kiddies are busy experimenting informally, formal educational stuff all the time is a BAD IDEA.
      5. She is concerned with gender, and she does get cited by the contingent of people who are worried that boys are being done down by the educational system.

      About the latter: a basic idea seems to be that since girls are more compliant and better at small muscle stuff early on, they leap ahead in education and outdo the boys. The boys are much too distractable, etc, so they end up medicated and failing. (I am exaggerating only a very small bit.)

      The figures certainly seem to bear out the idea that the girls are succeeding recently better than the boys. Except, of course, for STEM (science, tech, eng, maths). So why the ruined boys still seem to hold their own in the toughest fields (as tradition has it) is a real question, but it might not be the biggest. The biggest question might be how people can possibly think they are in a position to make recommendations for nation-sized experiments in education.

    7. [...] Nerea, este es el post del que te he hablado esta mañana: Early reading: clashes with boyish gender roles  [...]

    8. ... Says:

      This is just idiotic.


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