Here's my short summary of the book: it is fantastic. I add my recommendation to that of my friend's in that I feel this is a must read book for parents of young boys. Now, continue reading for my slightly more thorough review of the book's main points and some of my favorite passage.
As the subtitle to the book indicates, Sax breaks the book down into five main factors that he feels are most at fault for the issue at hand. In order, they are:
The First Factor: Changes in Education
- The emphasis on learning to read and write has gone from the 1st and 2nd grade to kindergarten.
- Learning through books and learning through real life experience have become imbalanced.
- Forms of academic and athletic competition are being removed from schools.
My tentative responses to what Sax goes over in this section are:
- Start my son later in kindergarten, such as when he is six instead of five.
- Try to expose my son to more outdoor, hands-on, 'dirty' activities.
- Encourage healthy academic and athletic competition.
"Trying to teach five-year-old boys to learn to read and write may be just as inappropriate as it would be to try to teach three-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."
"Finland, incidentally, consistently scores at or near the very top of all of these international [academic] rankings. What’s the most distinctive characteristic of public education in Finland? Very simple: Children in Finland don’t begin any formal school until they are seven years old."
"How could starting kids in school two years later lead to superior performance when those children become teenagers? Simple. If kids start school two years later and are taught material when they are developmentally prepared to learn, kids are less likely to hate school. If kids don’t hate school, it’s easier to get them to learn. If kids do hate school, as many American boys do, then the teacher is starting out with a major handicap before even stepping into the classroom."
"[R]esearch demonstrated that children must have a rich, interactive sensory environment—touching, smelling, seeing, hearing the real world—in order for the child’s brain and mind to develop properly. Without such real-world experiences, the child’s development will be impaired."
The Second Factor: Video Games
- Many boys now prefer the video game version over the real thing.
- Video games disconnect boys from the real world and what really happens in life.
This section reinforced many rules I already had envisioned for my kids. Prior to reading this section, I had gone on a YouTube rampage one evening where I watched a bunch of videos of kids and teenagers who are overly obsessed with video games getting very upset and angry when their video games are taken away with them. (Try going to YouTube and searching for world of warcraft freak out. Warning: some of them contain bad language.) Both this section of the book and those videos strongly convinced me to keep my children away from the video game world.
My response to what Sax goes over in this section is:
- No video games for myself or for my children.
"Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting," author Richard Louv reminds us. The end result of a childhood with more time spent in front of computer screens than outdoors is what Louv calls "cultural autism." The symptoms? Tunneled senses, and feelings of isolation and containment . . . [and] a wired, know-it-all state of mind. That which cannot be Googled does not count."
"Video games have displaced a major activity in the lives of teenage boys, but that activity isn’t reading; it’s playing outdoors. In 1980, many boys spent lots of time playing outdoors. Today, those boys are more likely to spend that time indoors with the GameCube or the PlayStation or the Xbox. That may be one reason why boys today are four times more likely to be obese compared with boys a generation ago."
"A series of studies over the past seven years has demonstrated clearly and unambiguously that the more time your child spends playing video games, the less likely he is to do well in school—whether he is in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college."
"The destructive effects of video games are not on boys’ cognitive abilities or their reaction times, but on their motivation and their connectedness with the real world."
The Third Factor: Medications for ADHD and The Fourth Factor: Endocrine Disruptors
These are two of the factors that I know the least about. I will not say much on them because I do not know enough about these topics to form an opinion. I do agree with Sax on what he says concerning these factors, it is just I do not know enough to defend my opinions. I hope to find a book or two that will enlighten me more on these topics. Recommendations, anyone?
My favorite passages related to this section:
"I’ve come to believe that we should not medicate boys so they fit the school; we should change the school to fit the boy."
"What these parents don’t know—and what the doctor also may not know—is that even relatively short-term use of these drugs, for just a year or perhaps less, can lead to changes in personality. The boy who used to be agreeable, outgoing, and adventurous becomes lazy and irritable."
The Fifth Factor: The Loss of Positive Role Models
- Reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes are discouraged in schools/life.
- Many of the popular male figures in society are not the type of men our boys should be looking up to.
My favorite passages related to this section:
"A boy is likely to become the kind of man he sees around him. A boy needs role models of healthy masculinity (just as girls need role models of healthy femininity). If you don't provide him with healthy role models, he may choose the unhealthy role models offered by the marketplace, from rap music or television or movies or even video games. The challenge is analogous to nutrition. Left to their own devices, not many boys will choose broccoli and Brussels sprouts over french fries and ice cream. That's why they need parents. It's the job of the parents to guide their son to make the right choice."
"There are life-affirming gender roles and there are gender stereotypes that are harmful and destructive. The "dumb blonde" is a negative and destructive stereotype, as is the "dumb jock." But no one should condemn as a gender stereotype the ideal of the husband and father who sacrifices himself for the sake of his wife and children. Instead, that ideal should be affirmed as role model."
Overall, I think this is a very well written book and deserves the high ratings and reviews that it has received. While I still hope to find many additional sources and information on the topics Sax covered, I feel that this is an excellent foundation to have for any person involved in the raising of boys.