Thomas Spence’s Wall Street Journal piece “How to Raise Boys Who Read: Not with Gross-out Books and Video-Game Bribes” has a number of interesting points. First of all, there’s the rebuttal of the common publishing myth that the way to get boys interested in reading is to offer them material along the lines of “Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger.” Spence writes:
Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised “so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education.”
“Plato before him,” writes C. S. Lewis, “had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful.”
This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that? How much easier to meet children where they are.
One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.
While I object to the assertion that we should raise children for certain roles that they may or may not occupy later in life, I find interesting the parallels between Spence’s reaction against the “grossing-down” of boys’ books and the recent reaction against the “dumbing-down” of church that went on in the 1990s.
Spence then argues that the real reason boys aren’t reading is that video games are competing with books for their attention. I imagine many of our writers, who both read and play video games–and are male–can respond to this argument with more ethos than I can, but my question is: why isn’t the same isn’t true of girls? After all, the same video games are available to them, and yet they still (apparently) read. My guess would be that the true reason for difference lies not in the presence or absence of video games, but in different gender expectations that parents, consciously or unconsciously, foster in their children.