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September 1996 - Issue No. #24
In this article, the author cites a survey showing that British schoolchildren are reading fewer literary classics and subsist instead on a diet of romance and horror stories. He asks "What is one to make of this? Should one be pleased the kids are reading anything at all apart from Nintendo manuals? Or is one to lament the emergence of a generation of educated adults who have never read a novel by Dickens?" In contrast, he gives the example of an English class in Egypt he visited where he saw 11-year old children discussing the plot and moral of books such as "Oliver Twist", "Black Beauty" and "Around the World in 80 Days" which they had read in abridged, simplified English versions.
In this article, the authors describe a study investigating the effect of topic choice on English reading comprehension by male and female students in Holland. Scores obtained by Dutch female students on national foreign language examinations are consistently lower than those of male students. It was hypothesized that this was due to sex-based differences in prior knowledge and interests, differences documented in previous studies on typical "male" and "female" interests, so that boys tend to do better on tests using "male" topics (science, sports, cars) while girls do better with "female topics (human relations art home). In the study 2980 male and female high school students were surveyed about their reading and TV habits, favorite school subjects, self-reported knowledge and interest in various topics. They were then given a 3-part reading test consisting of one gender-neutral topic, five readings on "male" topics and six readings on "female" topics. Results confirmed that boys and girls obtained better scores with texts on their respective interests. The authors recommend awareness of gender differences.
Female Topics 1. Human relations, psychological approach 2. Stereotypical female behaviour; nonstereotypical male behaviour 3. Female professions and occupations (nurse, au-pair) 4. Self care and care of others 5. Home, household, cooking 6. Empathy with underdog (e.g., minorities), pity 7. Art, literature, dance 8. Philosophy abstract reasoning Male Topics l. Economy, money labour market 2. Politics, authorities, public affairs 3. Crime, violence, aggression, war, militarism, nationalism, danger, risky behaviour 4. Sports choosing examination topics 5. Technology machines, physics 6. Automobiles and other motorized vehicles 7. Stereotypical male behaviour, nonstereotypical female behaviour
This article stresses the need for language teachers to counter misinformation in the media. The author cites a New York Times editorial which untruthfully states "the most common form of bilingual education involves one English lesson a day, with other subjects taught in the students' native language". She reprints a response by educator Richard Otheguy who points out the distortions in the editorial, then appeals to language teachers to take a leadership and advocacy role in society so that, by informing the public and by writing articles or letters to the media, we can prevent misinformation, counter myths and fight the xenophobia which can arise in our countries towards foreign languages, peoples and cultures.
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