• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author
Article

No patrimony

A liberal defence of populism

Turning childhood into a mental illness

The hidden history of identity politics

The meaninglessness of Charles Manson

The rise of duty-free politics

You can’t fine your way to free speech

The long plight of the right on campus

Why cheating has become the norm

Why I wrote a radical democratic defence of populism

Whiteness: a nonsense category

A radical life

Taking out a patent on culture

Exam stress is not a mental illness

Don’t play with fire

A culture war masquerading as a youthquake

Generational revenge: the politics of ageism

Populism on the ropes? Don’t be so sure

A revolt against deference

Masood’s motives? We may never know

Does Erdogan have a right to hold rallies in Europe?

Nincs szükség egy európai transznacionális birodalomra

The Therapeutic University

Universities blame others for plagiarism. They need to look at themselves

‘Just like Hitler’: The diminishing of the Holocaust

If you need a ‘detention director’ in your school you might be getting discipline wrong

There IS an alternative

RIP Zygmunt Bauman

Campuses are breaking apart into ‘safe spaces’

Why Millennials are so fragile

2016: A war of words against the people

Interview: ‘Despite fear, we should focus on the positives’

Standing up to the new school of anti-Semitism

Italian revolt

Populism: a defence

Fidel Castro: A tragic cold war figure

Free speech is at grave risk on university campuses

My Leonard Cohen

How Trump triumphed in the battle for legitimacy

Cast out for criticising PC: the 21st-century inquisition

The rise of safe space segregation

Bookish fools

Universities need to stop treating their students like children

Neem het maar aan van een Dylanfan: de Nobelprijs verdient hij niet

The Orwellian University

I love Dylan, but he shouldn’t get the Nobel Prize

Clownpocalypse: urban legends in the internet age

Workload is a problem in schools because of the ‘McDonaldisation’ of education

Too many academics are now censoring themselves

Walking out of consent classes… What’s wrong with ‘snowflake’ students these days?

Being mentally ill: the new normal?

Don’t turn university into a clinic

The vilification of controversy on college campuses

It will take more than boot camps to tackle terrorism

Exam stress? Here’s a cat you can cuddle

Parents are undermining teachers’ authority – and it’s causing havoc in schools

How ‘open borders’ became an illiberal cry

Tutoring subverts the meritocratic ethos associated with grammar schools in the 1960s

Terrorism is not a mental health issue

A project with no name

Brexit pity parties show how out of touch academia is

Revolt of the Others

‘Schools need to encourage students out of their comfort zone so they can adapt to university’

From Orlando to Yorkshire: the quest for meaning

The lone wolf: a terrorist in search of a cause

It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s a fight for democracy

Europe’s democratic legacy betrayed

‘Once you start asking pupils about their teachers, the profession will inevitably be undermined’

Project Fear: The exhaustion of the elites

Can humanity live without borders?

Boys have internalised the stereotype that they’re not supposed to like books or learning

Reclaiming Europe from the EU

The ages of distraction

The spectre of democracy

Paranoid parenting means university students are treated as kids

Don’t blame Corbyn for the rise of anti-Semitism

Son of Saul: Hope amid the Holocaust

When kids are getting arrested, our hypersensitivity about ‘threatening’ emojis is absurd

The crisis of attention

In praise of cultural appropriation

Stop medicalising pupils’ normal tensions and anxieties as mental health conditions

We need to talk about terrorism

The end of argument

Why is Europe giving Muslim migrants sex-ed lessons?

Why are angry ranchers being called terrorists?

Academic says students pulling down Rhodes statue is no better than ISIS wrecking temples

The year the West terrorised itself

Podcast: Information Overload

Don’t dismiss digital media – they have as much value as paper

Information overload or a search for meaning?

‘We must cultivate a love of reading’

Banning children from using Facebook is like stopping them from going to the park

Focus fracas

The power of reading: why picking up a book can say so much about you

Microaggression theory: an assault on everyday life

After Paris: We must refuse to be terrorised

Books are dangerous

The death of free speech

Teaching consent, policing intimacy

Let’s scotch the myth that boys don’t read

Back in 2000, my wife and I were researching a new school for our son. The first head teacher we met was keen to tell us that his school had an excellent record of managing boys’ reading problems, which was interesting but not that interesting, since we were unaware that our son had a problem.

At the second school, the introductions were barely over before the headmistress was leading us to the dyslexia unit. At the third, I was told: ‘‘Don’t worry, Mr Furedi, we know boys often struggle with reading and we have a wonderful system of support in place.’’

Until these visits, the idea that my son would not become a good reader had never entered my mind. But, by the time we completed our tours, I was beginning to doubt he would ever be able to read a street sign.
During the weeks that followed I discovered that many educators take for granted that boys and reading problems come as a package. Yet nothing in my study of the history of reading shows that boys need be at any disadvantage when it comes to books.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries Victorian moralists complained that boys were far too absorbed in reading cheap sensationalist fiction, while their teachers and parents worried that they were being led astray by it.

One hundred years or so on, and critics complained that boys were abandoning the classics in favour of gory adventure stories popular in the Twenties. The capacity of boys to read was never in question.
In 1940, when George Orwell denounced the powerful cultural influence of “Boys’ Weeklies”, his concern was not that boys had difficulty reading but the ease with which they absorbed what he took to be objectionable ideals.

What is true is that since the 18th century the reading habits of the sexes of all ages have often diverged. Women have always been more drawn to novels than men. Male reading was more often associated with non-fiction. And while girls read stories written for boys, the latter were not keen on books with female themes.

It was during the Twenties and Thirties that some teachers started to complain that boys were often too active to sit down with a book, although the claim that it is “impossible to get boys to read” is of a more recent vintage. Today the assertion that boys simply don’t read has acquired the status of an incontrovertible truth.

The fact that we now presume that boys are alienated from books may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy with children playing the part expected of them. In too many schools teachers inadvertently reinforce the idea that they expect less from their boy readers than from girls.

If we want to cultivate a love of reading among boys we need to raise our expectations of them. This requires a drastic rethink by those educators who have internalised the doctrine of a male reading deficit.

Anxious parents who have been told that “boys don’t read” have also assimilated this message. Many tell me: “It does not matter what they read as long as they read something.” The mantra of “get them to read something” also pervades schools.

Well-meaning educators try to help boys by giving them texts allegedly “relevant” to their lives in the hope that if they can readily identify with the subject matter they will be encouraged to read. Often the reverse seems true and “relevant” learning resources turn off young readers.

The truth is many boys are unlikely to find pleasure reading about familiar experiences. To stimulate curiosity, boys need stories to carry them into different worlds. Take the Harry Potter publishing phenomenon. J K Rowling’s books grabbed the attention of young boys precisely because they pulled them into a world nothing like the life they knew. It appealed to their sense of idealism and their evolving sense of right and wrong.

Not that boys always need tales of high adventure: what they need is to experience reading itself as an adventure, as a medium for exploration. Stories conveyed through rich language and challenging plots are likely to encourage boys to carry on reading despite occasionally stumbling on words or sentences.

To get boys over the first hurdles to their reading adventure it is important to normalise it. Parents are constantly advised to read to their children. No doubt storytelling plays an important part in the education of young children.

But what is arguably more important is to make it normal to read at home. It is when boys see adults engaged in reading books that they begin to perceive this activity as what grown-ups do to have fun.

A father sitting on the sofa absorbed in a book can have a profound influence on how his sons think about reading. From a young boy’s outlook, reading is no longer what adults do with children but also what they choose to do on their own. Once boys understand that reading is a grown-up activity half the battle is won.

We must also dispel the myth that boys don’t read. Boys entranced by their digital gadgets are constantly reading, but they do so in ways that are motivated by pragmatic concerns. The problem is not that boys don’t read but that many don’t read for enjoyment. According to recent figures 13 per cent of boys – roughly twice as many as girls – do not read for pleasure.

To reiterate: whether or not young boys will discover the pleasure of reading depends on the example we set them. In 1921, the inspirational Newbolt Report on the teaching of English in England recognised a crucial point: that the transmission of a teacher’s love of reading is the precondition for educating children to love reading.

Thankfully, it is not necessary to be a qualified teacher to communicate the love of reading. Fathers telling stories, mothers reciting poems and other adults talking to children about the books they love, can have the desired outcome. In such a cultural climate, boys will read.

Books to get boys reading

Under fours:

• Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Wright Mabie
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Age four to six:

Revolting Rhymes and The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl
Fox in Socks by Dr Seuss

Age seven to 11:

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Famous Five and Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton
•  Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling
Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

Age 12-15:

Amazon Adventure by Willard Price
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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