I grew up in a household where it wasn’t the women who read, but the men. My background is defiantly working class. At the tender age of 14 my Maltese Grandfather told my father that “year 7 was enough education,” and he was promptly sent out to work. Despite being forced out of formal education prematurely, my father has maintained a life-long love affair with books. I remember as a small child poring over a set of encyclopaedias that my father had purchased as a young adult. If I had a question my father was always there encouraging me to “go and find out for myself”. Books, I am proud to say are something which was always cherished in my childhood home. We even had a special room that was dedicated to storing the books and reading them.
It took me until I was an adult before I realised a couple of important things. Firstly, I realised the gift that my father had given me. Of course I am not speaking of the set of encyclopaedias, but of the love for reading and books. Secondly, I realised that a passion for reading is too frequently something that is inherited. It is usually a parent or grandparent who facilitates this, but sometimes it is a teacher or a librarian that fosters this appetite. A short while ago I asked my father where he had inherited his love of books. I had assumed that it had come from outside the family home since his father clearly had little value for what the education system might offer. To my surprise he named his own father. His father, it seemed, despite his views on education, was a book lover.
Indeed I was a fortunate young woman. Although it was probably my brother (and my own son) who have benefited the most from my Dad’s love affair with books. Increasingly, many Australian children live in homes where they don’t have this. In fact, many children live in homes where not only does their significant male role model not read, but he may explicitly (or implicitly), convey the message that “reading isn’t cool” or (even worse), that “real men don’t read”. It is a horrifying thought, and one which I have seen the consequences of daily in the classroom, with too many boys bowing to social pressure and blatantly refuse to read. Even worse, many regurgitate the same messages that have been fed to them by the man in their life they most admire and aspire to.
While it is important that as educators we always talk positively about books it is crucial that our male teachers are given a dominant voice in this discourse. This can be a great challenge in schools where male teachers make up a small minority in our English and Humanities departments. This is especially the case, where men from “other” faculties refuse to support literacy initiatives in the school. Fortunately, I belong to a school community where male staff are provided opportunities to voice their positive experiences of reading. We have some awesome librarians working behind the scenes to facilitate opportunities for this. However, we are also fortunate a to possess a few male educators who understand their role in developing literacy especially with the boys they teach.
I have a vision of Science and Maths teachers everywhere digressing from their lesson plans to highlight an important link to a Science Fiction novel they have recently read. Similarly, I’d love to hear Physical Education using Michael Jordan’s biography to make links to their curriculum. Of course, within the reality of the busyness of school life, this is a growing challenge. It is hard to get staff to surrender their lunch time to share their reading with students. Likewise, it is crucial that the school leadership team take time to break open these issues with staff and develop a school-wide approach to literacy where every member of staff from every faculty is a stakeholder.
How does your school provide opportunities for men on staff to share their positive experiences of reading with students? How has your school leadership team involve all teachers in the development of literacy amongst students? I’d love to hear your thoughts.