Here's Christina Haff Summers' review of The Dangerous Book for Boys. If you know young boys, they'll love this book.
SNIPS & SNAILS
By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
PARENTS and educat ors are wringing their hands over the poor academic performance of boys. Girls are better readers, earn higher grades and are far more likely to go to college. America does a much better job educating girls than boys. But now, out of nowhere, comes a book that may hold the secret to male learning.
"The Dangerous Book for Boys," written by two English brothers, Conn and Hal Iggulden, violates all the rules of political correctness - and males between the ages of 8 and 80 are reading it in droves.
Already a major best seller in Great Britain, the book is now topping the lists in America. Its appeal is obvious - it goes directly for the pleasure centers of the male brain.
"The Dangerous Book for Boys" is all about Swiss Army knives, compasses, tying knots and starting fires with a magnifying glass. It includes adventure stories with male heroes, vivid descriptions of battles and a history of artillery. Readers learn how to make their own magnets, periscopes and bows and arrows. It gives rules and tactics for poker and marbles - and secret moves for coin tricks.
In a radical departure from modern schoolroom readings, the book has almost nothing to say about feelings, relationships or how boys can learn to cry. It valorizes risk, adventure and manliness.
Today's boys inhabit a danger-averse world where even old favorites like tag and dodge ball are under a cloud - Too competitive! Someone might get hurt! The National Parent Teacher Association recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive "tug of war" called "tug of peace."
By contrast, "The Dangerous Book for Boys" has detailed instructions on how to hunt, kill, skin and cook a rabbit.
Yet the book doesn't encourage boys to be Neanderthals. It tells them they have to become gentlemen. To this end, it offers lessons in manners, grammar and "seven poems every boy should know." It features an astute essay on that most mysterious of subjects, girls, and how to respect them, make friends with them and not to offend them.
Today's teachers have been trained to regard boys and girls as cognitively and emotionally interchangeable. Common sense persuades most of us they are not, and now a rapidly growing body of neuroscientific evidence supports this conventional view.
There are many exceptions, but here are the rules: Girls tend to have better verbal skills and enjoy a clear cognitive advantage in understanding people and human relationships. Boys, on average, have better spatial reasoning skills and tend to be keenly interested in systems and in mastering the rules that make things work.
Educators studiously ignore all of this while they strive to avoid "gender bias." But even after being educated in today's gender-neutral schools, the career preferences of boys and girls continue to be markedly distinct. It is not social pressure that leads so many girls to become social workers, teachers and psychologists, and vast numbers of boys to be mechanics, carpenters or electrical engineers; it is their different innate propensities.
The sad lesson of this book's success is how far our current education culture has drifted from the world of boys. The special art of teaching boys - once so well understood by educators everywhere - is at risk of being lost forever.
One literacy expert reviewed several junior-high social studies texts and concluded: "Many students may well end up thinking that the West was settled chiefly by females, most often accompanied by their parents."
In her alarming book, "The Language Police," education historian Diane Ravitch describes how "sensitivity and bias committees" in our leading publishing houses now routinely expunge from textbooks and standardized tests all mention of potentially upsetting topics. Two major publishing companies specifically interdict references to frightening animals such as rats, mice, roaches and snakes.
"The Dangerous Book for Boys" will send bias and sensitivity committees into turmoil - but its very success may eventually put them out of business.
Will girls like the book too? Some will. But it is boys who are the coin collectors, adventure buffs, card tricksters and systematizers of the species. I showed the book to a 22-year-old man I know. He leafed through it and exclaimed: "I would have loved this as a kid!" He was mesmerized by instructions for how to make the "greatest paper airplane in the world." I suspect such lore will not light up the neural circuitry of females.
Unless, of course, they are mothers who happen to notice that their sons have fallen in love with this wonderful, wholesome, delightfully instructive anachronism of a book.
Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "The War Against Boys" and "Who Stole Feminism?"