Early reading: clashes with boyish gender roles

 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!)

    16 Days

    Today, 25 November, is the first day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

    The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. 

    The International Red Cross is one of many groups to be a part of this campaign. One of their initiatives is to give a voice to women who are suffering from violence.

    The IRC is in war zones around the world, helping many thousandsof women and girls every day. We know they have much to say andwe know how easily their voices are lost, so we’re working withwriter, photographer and long-time women’s advocate Ann Jones togive them an opportunity to speak, loudly and clearly.With digital cameras, women who have survived conflict,displacement, discrimination, sexual and domestic violencevividly document their own lives. Through these personalphotographs, stirring portraits are revealed and women cometogether to tell stories of strength, reclaim their rights andmake their voices heard.Be a part of this powerful exchange, which begins tomorrow,November 25th to kick off “16 Days of Action against GenderViolence.” Over the course of the 16 Days, you’ll be inspired bythe extraordinary changes these brave women make with the boldclicks of their cameras.Just sign up for our 16 Days e-mail list, and on each of thosedays you’ll get a special e-mail with one woman’s photo, anamazing story and a chance to add your own voice. Afterward,you’ll get occasional updates from Ann and the IRC about newstories, IRC programs empowering women, and the many ways YOUcan help.

    To sign up for the IRC 16 Days list go here.   Thanks, Jender-Parents!