For various reasons, at this point in my life I am quite happy to live in Texas. One of those reasons is that there is, relative to other U.S. states, a noticeable uptick in Texas in public concern for men and boys in education. I wouldn’t make the claim that Texas is leading the charge, but things are definitely starting to coalesce into a broader awareness here.
For the last three and a half years, for example, Project MALES at UT Austin has been conducting advocacy for men and boys at various academic events, networking with other recently-emerged groups like Fathers Active in Communities and Education (FACE) and the mentoring program XY Zone. I volunteered at their first symposium and attended the next two (see my article here).
As I recently reported in this article, Texas is also one of the states in which schools were beginning to reconsider extreme zero-tolerance discipline policies which have the tendency of causing more harm than good.
A Voice for Male Students is based in Texas. My own activism at A&M-Commerce (formerly East Texas State University), where I worked to expose and raise awareness of the university’s sexual misconduct policy, was supported by quite a few people among both the student body and staff.
And now, from this article in The Houston Chronicle, we hear of this development at Elrod Elementary:
Men from varied backgrounds and ages volunteer one hour a month to do something that at first took them out of their comfort zone – entertaining a roomful of youngsters at Elrod Elementary School by reading books aloud. Part of a program called “Real Men Read,” the eight men are among 300 who read to kids in the second, fifth and seventh grades in selected schools in Houston Independent School District.
As skeptical as I am of the phrase “real men” given its frequent abuse by those more interested in controlling men than helping them, Real Men Read is a good initiative. Also, they are deliberately turning a gendered phrase on its head. Due to various reasons, reading has become seen as something “feminine,” something “real men” don’t do. They are flipping the script to tell the world that they do.
As this website has asserted numerous times in the past, literacy and verbal skills are critical elements of educational attainment for men and boys. Not only is it the area where they are most deeply behind, there is a broader culture that reinforces stereotypes requiring men and boys to be stoic and nonverbal.
The article continues:
David Zugheri, 43, is married with two children, but he didn’t know what was in store when he read “My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood” by Rosemary Wells,Secundino Fernandez and Peter Ferguson to 35 Elrod fifth-graders. He read for about 30 minutes. “Quite honestly that was the longest stretch of reading out loud that I had done in years,” said Zugheri, who works for Envoy Mortgage.
“The children were fascinated by the story. I didn’t think they would be, this being my first time doing this.” “My book was about a child that had come to America,” Zugheri said. “I think that (story) resonated very well with some of the children in the class that had done the same.”
“There is something about reading to children out loud that is powerful, being able to keep a 10-, 11-year-olds’ attention,” he said. Having men read can make a difference, Elrod Principal Linda Bellard said.
“Most of the time our volunteers are women,” said Bellard, whose school is at 6230 Dumfries. “I was involved at my previous school with Real Men Read,” Bellard said. “It really motivated our children and helped them to understand the importance of reading. Having a man come in and read just took it to another level for them, especially our boys.”
The men come to participating schools the third Thursday of each month, beginning in November and continuing through the school year, except for March and April, which are testing months for HISD. “Currently we have 44 schools involved, affecting over 9,000 students,” said Liz Philippi, HISD’s manager of library services.
Book titles are selected from Scholastic by HISD, and the books are kept by the schools’ libraries after the reading sessions.
These HISD staff members would have to work very hard to accommodate over 44 schools and 9,000 students in this program. I encourage you to send a word of thanks to Liz Philippi and Linda Bellard for their great work. Here is their contact information:
- Linda Bellard, Principal, Elrod Elementary. Phone: 713-778-3330. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Liz Philippi, manager of library services. Phone: 713-556-6149. Email: email@example.com
If you are in the Houston area and would like to sign up to read, visit the Houston Real Men Read page on the Houston ISD website. A criminal background check will be required (just as virtually any position involving children does). You may also be interested in viewing the Real Men Read blog for more information.