Tuesday 11 October, 6.30pm until 8.30pm, Foyles Charing Cross, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB
Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Academy of Ideas website.
When a survey earlier this year found many teachers had given up forcing boys to read Dickens and Austen, because ‘they turn off after the 100th page’, it was not greeted with surprise from anyone who has recently set foot inside a classroom. Recent research indicates one in 11 boys in England (19,000 each year) start secondary school with the reading skills of a seven-year-old at best, while a recent National Literacy Trust survey found nearly a quarter of boys asked found reading boring, compared to 13% of girls. Faced with warnings from experts that by age 11 it is increasingly difficult to develop this vital educational skill, there has been ever greater pressure on government to act earlier and earlier to make sure boys don’t start slipping behind for good.
Yet there is fierce debate over what can or should be done to tackle this apparent crisis. Former schools minister Jim Knight sought to encourage fathers to read more themselves to show their sons reading is an acceptable masculine pursuit; other measures have included getting more male role models in the classroom and even calls for specialised gender-based teaching methods which encourage separate ‘boy-friendly’ books, even if that means fewer classics and more comics. But if boys and girls are given different books to read, will they be trapped in literary ‘gender ghettoes’ and miss out on the chance to stretch their imaginations? Some insist it’s a risk worth taking: leading children’s novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce has warned we are facing ‘a national catastrophe’, with millions shunning reading for life unless teachers are prepared to engage boys with shorter and engaging stories rather than wasting time ‘ticking off books’. Charlie Higson, author of the hugely successful Young Bond young adult books, has declared ‘life is too short for Dickens’.
Overall, the literacy debate tends to focus on the technical aspects of literacy, testing children’s achievement in terms of ‘key skills’. But might this approach alienate young readers from the broader pleasures of engaging with literature? Or is it time to accept that getting boys to an acceptable standard of literacy is more important than boring them rigid with books they won’t understand or care about? Given that there is no shortage of male authors and critics, is the problem not in fact with boys per se, but really a certain type of poor, underachieving, working class boy? Is the problem really about books at all?
writer and salonierre; creator and host, Shoreditch House Literary Salon; author, Maggie and Me
award winning children's author, novels include Nicholas Dane, Junk and Kill All Enemies
|Alka Sehgal Cuthbert|
educator, writer, doctoral researcher
director, National Literacy Trust
writer and broadcaster; (non-residential) Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research at Harvard University
children's writer; lecturer and educationalist; author, The Queen Must Die, first part of a time-travel trilogy
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
In young people’s fiction, why are girls so self-righteous and boys so oafish, asks author and Costa judge Eleanor UpdaleEleanor Updale, Daily Telegraph, 6 October 2011
It is an honour to work with the leaders of tomorrow’s BritainLindsay Johns, , 24 August 2011
At an age when children's literacy takes off, and they are expected to read for 20 minutes a day at home to keep up with classmates, Aurella has nothing to read and nobody at home to read to. It's hardly surprising her ability lagged three years behind that of her peers.David Cohen, Evening Standard, 31 May 2011
Nearly one in 10 boys reading well below expected standard, although data show overall improvementJessica Shepherd, Guardian, 18 December 2010
After fresh reports of the widening gender gap in the classroom, Gareth Malone tells how he helped some pupils to learn to love literacy .Gareth Malone, Daily Telegraph, 2 September 2010
Top-down tinkering with Enid Blyton’s books implies children can’t cope with difficult and offensive words. But they can.Sharmini Brookes, spiked, 17 August 2010
The received wisdom was that teenagers didn't read, or else they read adult stuff and by and large, this was true. Even today there's a great deal of soul searching about boys in particular not reading. But is it because books are only for old and uncool people, like opera or bingo? Or could it be that the books that might interest people of that age are simply not written?Melvin Burgess,