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Changes at School

This very short excerpt in no way does justice to the book. After seven years of research, Sax, a family physician and research psychologist, identifies "five factors that disable the motivational engine for a growing number of American boys." The book is specific in its indictment, and although heavily footnoted, very light reading. We can hope it will provoke a revolution among parents of boys.

Here's how Sax explains that fourth-grade boys are doing slightly better in reading [as measured by NAEP] than they were twenty years ago while twelfth-grade boys are doing worse.

In order for high school kids to understand many of the topics we expect them to grasp, they have to be reading a wide range of material. Kids need to be reading in their spare time. Kids need to read for fun. . . .

The gender gap did not widen because girls are reading more in 2004 than in 1980; they're not. In fact, girls are slightly less likely to read in their spare time today than they were in 1980. But roughly nine out of ten boys have stopped reading altogether. Why?

Sax sets out to answer that question in the book. . . and the answer is not video games.

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, Basic Books 2007

Leonard Sax, M. D., Ph.D.

Your son is five years old. Heâs smart. Heâs friendly. But at your first conference with his kindergarten teacher, the teacher tells you that your son is fidgety and has trouble sitting still. âHeâs not doing as well as he could be. And itâs very distracting to the other children,â she says. She suggests that you may want to have him tested for ADHD. âThere was a boy in my class just like your son last year,â she says reassuringly. âHe was bright, just like your son, but he had trouble doing what was expected of him. We all knew he could do better. He was such a smart boy. Just like your son. The pediatrician suggested Adderall. Iâll tell you something, doing on Adderall made a world of difference for that boy. It was like night and day. He became a really excellent student.â

"But I don't really think my son needs to be on medication," you say. "And--he's only five years old."

"Well, we could just put him in the play group," the teacher says. "Those are the kids who aren't really ready to learn to read and write. Every child is different, we understand that. In the play group, he could run around, jump up and down, play with blocks, without distracting the othre children."

"The play group?" you say. "But I thought the play group was for slow learners. My son is not a slow learner."

"I agree," the teacher says. "That's why I think you should have him tested." . . . .

It now appears that the language areas of the brain in man five-year-old boys look like the language areas of the brain of the average three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Have you ever tried to teach a three-and-a-half-year-old girl to read? It's frustrating, both for the teacher and for the girl. It's simply not develpmentally appropriate, to use the jargon of early childhood educators. You're asking her to do something that her brain is just not yet ready to do.

Trying to teach five-year-old boys to read and write may be just as inappropriate as it would be to try to teach three-and-a-half-year-old girls to read and write. Timing is everything, in education as in many other fields. It's not enough to teach well. You have to teach well to kids who are ready to learn, kids who are developmentally "ripe" for learning. asking five-year-old boys to learn to read--when they'd rather be running around or playing games--may be the worst possible introduction to school, at least for some boys.

— Leonard Sax
Boys Adrift


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