Boys and Literacy: The Role of Father
My response is both personal and professional. I am the literacy role model in my son’s life.
If you even take a cursory interest in education, you probably know that boys are falling behind girls at an increasing rate — especially in reading. Reading is essential in every content area as well as crucial for a productive, enriching, and successful life. Dads, listen up! We have an important job to do.
We have to show our sons the importance of reading.
What is causing this issue?
During my research for a graduate class, I learned that many believe that a “Boy Code” is a contributing reason to why many boys become reluctant readers. “Boy Code” refers to “culturally embedded expectations about masculinity” (Cleveland, 2011, p. 38) that stem from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled different or feminine (Cleveland, 2011). Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age (Sadowski, 2010), many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading.
Boys lacking male reading role models often rely on media constructions of men to learn about “being a man.” We do not see athletes read on television — although most of them probably do. Movie images portray heroic men as those who go out “on their own”, who behave rashly, or who intuitively know how to do things — without reading/research. James Bond doesn’t read much; neither does Batman (at least on screen). Even Harry Potter, considered by many the “nerdier” male hero rarely reads or studies. Like his friend Ron, Harry relies on Hermione, their studious female friend, to handle all the “book learning”.
Male reading role models are so important to shattering this constructed image. Although male teachers can help with this, I feel like dads are the most powerful influence in the lives of their sons in regards to their feelings about reading. Unfortunately, the lack of reading role models probably leads to Matthew effects. Boys living in poverty (who often do not have steady “dads” in their lives) suffer from misconceptions of literacy the most. For example, boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores. Their fathers are also more likely to have jobs where literacy is valued. These boys view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010).
I read to my son nearly every day (I wish I could say every day, but the realities of time and energy do interfere). His phonemic awareness is already developing as he connects language to those weird scribblings in his Elmo and Clifford books. He understands how to turn pages in books, which, I have learned from some of my elementary colleagues, not every child entering kindergarten knows how to do. I can’t wait to take turns reading books together and to ask him questions about what he is reading. And I can’t wait to analyze movies and video games with him as well, showing him how what we read also helps us understand what we see. And, my wife bought three Geek Dad books that I can’t wait for us to read, so we can make some really cool stuff like an iPhone Steadi Cam, superhero capes, and an outdoor movie theater. We are going to have a lot of fun. We are having a lot of fun.
Take the time. Make it a priority, dads. Read with your son.
Cleveland, K. P. (2011). Teaching boys who struggle in school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Sadowski, M. (2010). Putting the ‘boy crisis’ in context: Finding solutions to boys’ reading problems may require looking beyond gender. Education Digest, 76(3), 10-13.