Earlier in my career I used to hear boys complain about reading and writing. They considered most of the books we read to be GIRL books and most of our essays to be essays for GIRLS. Math and science and even history were true BOY subjects.
Many parents also considered English to be a subject that boys had to endure: “He’s never liked English, but we tell him just to push through it, and it will be over before he knows it.”
Along with most English teachers, in the past I included works that I thought would interest males. A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Huxley’s Brave New World, and lots of Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth and Hamlet, became staples of English classrooms because the works were timeless and sufficiently interesting to males. In other words, they were not GIRL books or plays.
In the past two to three years, however, I have seen and heard a change in how males regard English classes. I no longer hear “girls’ subject,” nor do I see boys trying to evade English classes. Instead, most of the males that I teach like English and have a favorable view of English teachers.
What has prompted this change and is this a trend across the country or something only happening at my local school? I have a few theories, but no real answer.
Since I teach all seniors, possibly older students are more interested in reading and writing than younger boys.
Since I teach AP English Language and Composition, a course that stresses nonfiction reading and writing, maybe the boys are more interested in nonfiction literature instead of novels, plays, and poetry. Authorities on teaching boys emphasize the need to include more nonfiction literature in schools.
Is the Internet with its emphasis on reading and writing indirectly increasing boys’ interest in English?
Although I have no proof of the rationale behind the change I am experiencing in the attitudes of boys, I have a sneaking suspicion that the real reason may revolve around the English Department in my high school. For years I taught in schools where the English department was composed almost exclusively of female teachers. Usually, we would have one or two male English teachers, and they were men who worked well with low achieving students or reluctant readers.
Today, eight of the fifteen English teachers in the department where I teach are male. What a change! Throughout their high school careers, male and female students will have both male and female English teachers, and I suspect that is one of the main reasons why we rarely hear the complaint that English is a girls’ subject. When boys have a coach who loves Shakespeare, why would they regard literature as only for girls? When boys have an English teacher who can quote 18th-century British poetry with as much enthusiasm as he spouts NCAA college football statistics, why would they consider poetry as a feminine subject? When boys have a male teacher who plays in a band and also loves to write, why would they believe writing is a subject just for girls?
Is English still considered a girls’ subject in your school? Have you seen a change in how boys regard reading and writing?