Suzanne Fields

Both boys and girls learned to enjoy the "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" for both the fascinating horror of the tale as well as for the storyteller's artistry, the rhythms and sounds of words. They were easy to memorize and recite. In my random samples of children who have read the complete Harry Potter series, reveling in the magic, few have even heard of the classic poem by Samuel Coleridge. "Ancient Mariner" was once a staple of literature for both sexes.

Adolescent boys and girls have different sensibilities and sensitivities, but all can learn some of the same things. "The Ancient Mariner," like the plays of Shakespeare and the psalms of the Bible, are not gender-specific. Girls like romance more than adventure, and they devour these books. Girls read more fiction than boys. Some publishers believe the "Twilight" series about a teenage girl's romance with a vampire is popular with girls because it offers them a powerful argument to remain chaste through adolescence, "making chastity sexy," as one critic puts it, even though it's subject matter is bizarre. Girls simply don't get such encouragement in the popular culture.

The line on boys is that they don't want to read or talk about feelings. That may depend on what feelings we're talking about. "Lord of the Flies" tells a lot about the feelings of children. Both boys and girls find it fascinating when a teacher is imaginative enough to assign it.

It's clear to an observant parent, even without "the new study" to prove it, that boys are more restless, less mature, than girls of the same age. Their interests are different. Anyone can see what happens when boys and girls are grouped with their own sex. The baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said it best: "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Women earn more bachelor's and master's degrees than men, and they're gaining on men in the scientific professions. College admissions officials fear the "tipping point," where the majority of women on campus grows so large as to tip the perception of the institution to "a girls' school." Then college-bound boys will avoid it. It doesn't all start with reading, but starting with reading can be the beginning of turning things around. That's worth keeping in mind as the school bells ring across the land.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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