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Teaching Feminism: Summer Reading, Girls Vs. Boys

Teaching Feminism: Summer Reading, Girls Vs. Boys

Welcome to Teaching Feminism, a series about equality in the classroom. Teaching feminism is about so much more than teaching girls. We need to teach all of our students to respect everyone, no matter what. Teaching feminism talks about just that. Have your own story about these issues? Share it here.

It’s no secret that students lose information over the summer months if they are not keeping up with their studies during their time off. There are conflicting reports about how much information is lost, and it does differ between children with families of different socioeconomic statuses, but on average, students are estimated to lose about one month of grade-level equivalency over the summer months they are out of school. To combat this, many schools have instituted summer reading programs where students are expected to read over the summer and come back to an assignment on their reading in their English classes. While summer reading programs and incentives are great for students to ensure they are reading, there is a lot of disagreement about how it should be done. Should summer reading lists have classic books that students should read for school, or should they be fun reads just to keep kids engaged? What audience should the books target, boys or girls? The issues summer reading books raise are endless.

As a high school English teacher, I know how important summer reading can be. When students come back after several months of not reading, it can be a struggle for the first month of school to get them back where they were supposed to be at the end of the last school year. However, I’ve seen many summer reading programs that try to get kids to read books they should be reading while class is in session. These books include heavy reads and classics. While it may be tempting to get kids to read “important” books over the summer, especially since time is limited during class, these books can be extremely difficult for students to understand. This is where kids need discussion, reading guides, and teacher help in order to fully understand what they are reading.

When students get overwhelmed or feel that they are attempting something that is too difficult for them, they often shut down and decide not to continue. This can be detrimental in many ways. First, they won’t read the book and won’t be prepared when school starts. Second, it can turn them off to reading and English class all together. If they believe that all the reading they do for class will be difficult and “boring,” they probably won’t look forward to reading for class at all, and may not even do it.

The never-ending debate that follows, then, is what books to pick for the summer reading program. Young adult books, especially, tend to be either clearly written with a boy audience or a girl audience in mind, so this usually includes some kind of debate about which gender to target. It’s no secret that boys lag behind girls when it comes to reading.

Many teachers and parents believe that we should select books that boys will be interested in because girls will read them no matter what. While I do believe this is true, it is dangerous to keep pushing male-oriented books on our young female students. Girls are already so overwhelmed with all of the classics written by (and for) dead, white men. They encounter important heros in literature such as Guy Montag, Holden Caulfield, and Jay Gatsby to name a few. They also encounter their helpless and often short-lived female counterparts who generally serve to inspire or otherwise drive the male hero of the story with no true agency themselves. While these books are important for students to read, if we don’t counter the images of women we show young female students in literature, we risk sending the message that women aren’t good for much besides inspiring men.

What’s a teacher or parent to do, then? When it comes to reading, I am a firm believer of options. We have libraries and bookstores with shelves upon shelves of books in the world. Why not let students choose for themselves? Narrow the overwhelming set of choices down for them, of course, but give them a comprehensive list made up of classics and young adult page-turners, with books that will appeal to boys and girls. Let them pick, and I guarantee you will not be able to pry the books from their fingers.

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10 comments

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2:39PM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

if your kids see you read daily (and enjoy it!) they will be more likely to read. include reading in bedtime routines. when your kids ask you a question that you know little about, encourage them to look it up, or say "lets find out together!"

5:19AM PDT on Sep 13, 2012

Isn't it funny that the Summer Learning gap is all based on keeping up with the Standardized testing values, not whether or not the Children are actually learning something.

This approach to children and their well being is the disgusting way to view them as commodities that must be shoved through a screen and discarded if not of the right size.

Where is the interest in the children's lives, or what they do? Get them to begin to communicate in a way that they are comfortable and capable, then they can relate their interactions and find a means to improve their communications skills. If the issue is lower class children they will have no interest in reading about Dead White, Rich Victorian (Classic) families and their wealthy troubles over the summer.

Stop forcing gender politics on them and start looking at why the class warfare of NCLB tries so hard to 'normalize' them to begin with. Work with the community to develop a way to develop the skills of all the members and encourage reading among families, not just forcing children to do it as homework.

Intersectional or It's Bullshit!

10:49AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

I believe that they should be able to read what they want to. In my school, we complete assignments based on what books we favor.

7:18AM PDT on Jul 14, 2012

Frankly, both boys and girls should be reading books focused on BOTH boy AND girl points of view. In the real world we all need to work with and understand each other. Put some girl perspective books on the list and mix it up. For classics, that do tend to have a more male-favored flavor, get some follow up questions going to help young readers to think. If you examine both male and female characters in these according to the historical context (ie: what the world was like good, bad, or otherwise) then you are also encouraging a little history study, and also helping young learners to understand the importance of identity and interaction between all people. And how we have, hopefully, grown in that regard...

8:40AM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

There are plenty of books that could be chosen for summer reading, but choosing from a list might be easier for some students to actually pick out a book and read it. IF there are no books on the school list that appeal to the student, perhaps any suitable book would be acceptable. There is no reason why kids couldn't learn to enjoy reading. It need not be "boring, dangerous or expensive".

6:14AM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

We always got to choose our summer reading from a list when I was in school. I do think that reading books written by and for a particular demographic that you are not a part of is important. Boys should read books written by females, white kids should read books written by black authors, Christians should read books written by Muslim authors, etc. While options are good and it helps empower kids to make choices, I also believe that guidance is necessary in providing a holistic, comprehensive cultural awareness - in which books are an extremely important tool.

5:21PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

It's also important that boys are able to read books that might be geared towards girls.

3:01PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Exactly; if students can choose their own books, it's better.

10:45AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Excellent advice to encourage reading of 'page turners' to build fluency and for enjoyment - I'd add popular nonfiction (Oliver Sacks or biographies).
These days too, librarians and parents should be investigating blogs to read too.

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