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What Are W


Year after year, boys continue to FALL BEHIND girls in reading skills. In this opening interview for the BSA’s Literacy Matters campaign, New York Times bestselling author of 25 books, child philosopher, and co-founder of the Gurian Insitute Michael Gurian tells why—and how—we can help REVERSE THE TREND.


by bryan wendell and john r. clark


SCOUTING: The Boy Scouts of America recently asked you to write a position paper for its upcoming Literacy Matters campaign on the state of literacy among young boys. Why?


MICHAEL GURIAN: The BSA recognizes that this is a really big issue. Males are a year and a half behind females in reading, writing, and language learning. Literacy touches character develop- ment; it touches emotional intelligence, social intelli- gence. So I think that’s why they’re saying, “Let’s figure out how Boy Scouts can help,” because the BSA has access to all these volunteers who could have a profound men- toring effect on the literacy development of kids.


SCOUTING: Just how far behind are American boys compared to their female classmates?


M.G.: We think a lot about girls being behind in science. That gap is 3 percent. But the boys’ literacy gap is 10 percent. The gap remains pro- found and shows up when we see dropout rates. In classes that involve reading and writing, boys are getting two-thirds of the


D’s and F’s. So that’s really significant. Then if you add racial and socioeconomic subgroups, like boys of color, the gap can be as high as 20 percent.


SCOUTING: Some of this stems from neurological differences between boys and girls, right?


M.G.: Exactly. The male and female brains are formatted differently in utero. They come out this way, so girls not only have more access to centers for words, but they’re also connecting words to their feelings and their memories and senses.


SCOUTING: That’s nature. You’ve written there are three components to this child- development process. What are the other two?


M.G.: Nurture and culture. The nurturing system is what I call the “first family” (the people very close to the boy) that nurtures the nature of this child. This nurturing system should read to him a lot and have him read aloud a lot. Some boys are adept readers and writers, but if a particular boy is not, the nur- turing system has to pay very close attention to developing these skills.


SCOUTING: And the culture?


M.G.: If there aren’t books around the house, if the group doesn’t think reading


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