Monday, November 13, 2006

War On Boyz

I'm still teaching that Rogerian thing, still with mixed results.

It's really reading I'm teaching, of course.

I used to go into Freshman composition and tell my students I was here to teach them to read, but I have stopped doing that, since it annoyed them too much. Really, though, it is what I do: teach students to read. They don't, in fact, know how.

Oh, they can read: I mean, they can look at the words on the page and figure out what the sounds mean. But they read on the most literal of level, nearly all of them -- as do many Americans, apparently -- and they cannot read irony or subtext at all.

So when I ask them to read for Rogerian context, it's like I'm asking them to see a color off their spectrum entirely.

This essay here, "A War Against the Boys," another off the Chronicle Arts & Letters site:

about 3/4 of them misread entirely.

They all liked the essay -- enjoyed reading it, seemed to have put some time into reading it, knew it well enough to discuss it in a lively fashion, but took it wholly literally.

It starts like this:

Doug Anglin isn’t likely to flash across the radar screen at an Ivy League admissions office. A seventeen-year-old senior at Milton High School, a suburb outside Boston, Anglin has a B-minus average and plays soccer and baseball. But he’s done something that millions of other teenagers haven’t: he’s sued his school district for sex discrimination. Anglin’s lawsuit, brought with the aid of his father, a Boston lawyer, claims that schools routinely discriminate against males. “From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you’ll do well and get good grades,” he told a journalist. “Men naturally rebel against this.”

And contains paragraphs like this:

If boys are doing worse, whose fault is it? To many of the current critics, it’s women’s fault, either as feminists, as mothers, or as both. Feminists, we read, have been so successful that the earlier “chilly classroom climate” has now become overheated to the detriment of boys. Feminist-inspired programs have enabled a whole generation of girls to enter the sciences, medicine, law, and the professions; to continue their education; to imagine careers outside the home. But in so doing, these same feminists have pathologized boyhood. Elementary schools are, we read, “anti-boy”—emphasizing reading and restricting the movements of young boys. They “feminize” boys, forcing active, healthy, and naturally exuberant boys to conform to a regime of obedience, “pathologizing what is simply normal for boys,” as one psychologist puts it. Schools are an “inhospitable” environment for boys, writes Christina Hoff Sommers, where their natural propensities for rough-and-tumble play, competition, aggression, and rambunctious violence are cast as social problems in the making.

But it also has lots of paragraphs like this:

WHAT'S WRONG with this picture? Well, for one thing, it creates a false opposition between girls and boys, assuming that educational reforms undertaken to enable girls to perform better hinder boys’ educational development. But these reforms—new classroom arrangements, teacher training, increased attentiveness to individual learning styles—actually enable larger numbers of boys to get a better education. Though the current boy advocates claim that schools used to be more “boy friendly” before all these “feminist” reforms, they obviously didn’t go to school in those halcyon days, the 1950s, say, when the classroom was far more regimented, corporal punishment common, and teachers far more authoritarian; they even gave grades for “deportment.” Rambunctious boys were simply not tolerated; they dropped out. Gender stereotyping hurts both boys and girls.

The essay goes on to cut down the arguments of Sommers and her ilk -- in fact, a bit too harshly, which was why I gave the class the essay, because I wanted them to note that Kimmel was failing to be Rogerian to that opposition. Instead, they failed to notice that he was arguing against Sommers at all! They thought he was arguing against feminism! They thought Kimmel was agreeing that there was a war on boys!


So -- obviously -- before we can teach them to write and think -- we'll have to teach them to read, won't we?

Seriously, though, the Kimmel essay is a good one. Have a look.

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