Last week's blog post sparked some interesting conversation in the comments, both about the books I mentioned and about the question of whether girls civilize boys. The jury's still out on that latter question, but a brief news bit in last week's Inside Higher Ed suggests that our commonly-held stereotype may be wrong. The headline says it all (almost): "Study links co-ed housing to binge drinking." The study, published in the Journal of American College Health, found that students in co-ed housing reported a higher rate of binge drinking (42% reported weekly binge drinking) than those in single-sex housing (only 18%). So there goes my mother's theory that co-ed living offers "protection" against the outside world — that is, it may, but there's still the "inside world" of the residence hall itself to deal with.
I found this week's piece on "boy studies" in the Chronicle of Higher Education particularly interesting in this regard. We seem to have moved beyond the simplistic "boys at risk" fear-mongering of the last decade; new studies on boyhood are more nuanced and subtle. But there's still a lot we don't know.
Of course, children's literature already knows this. Although there are certainly stereotypical "boy" and "girl" books out there, the books I cited in last week's piece mostly focus on boys who have trouble fitting the stereotype. Jesse Aarons, of Bridge to Terabithia, strives to be the fastest kid in elementary school because he knows he can't compete in other, stereotypically "masculine" arenas such as football — like the much later Napoleon Dynamite, he'd rather be drawing (sometimes imaginary) animals. And while Colin Craven of The Secret Garden seems to grow into his status as "Master Colin" by the end of the novel, Dickon Sowerby nurtures orphaned animals and teaches both Mary and Colin to garden, not — or example — to drink or to box. While I won't argue that children's literature can substitute for the empirical evidence that researchers are currently gathering on boys, then, I'd encourage them to take another look at the literature we're providing our children — it may have some clues to what's going on with them.