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Are there girls in this book?
Empathy is a big factor in emotional intelligence. It allows us to navigate social situations by inferring or inquiring about how others are feeling. Empathy is crucial to building relationships in any professional setting whether it be the workplace or the classroom. Studies show that reading increases empathy, so why wouldn’t we want boys to empathize with the other half of the human species? Writing for the Washington Post, children’s author Shannon Hale recounts the myriad ways in which adults discourage boys from reading stories with female lead characters: A school librarian introduces me before I give an assembly. “Girls, you’re in for a real treat. You will love Shannon Hale’s books. Boys, I expect you to behave anyway.” At a book signing, a mother looks sadly at my books. “I wish I could buy some for my kids, but I only have boys.” A little boy points to one of my books and exclaims, “I want that one!” His father pulls him away. “No, that’s a girl book.” Hale’s books, particularly the ones with “princess” in the title, are often bait for this sort of treatment. However, based on reports she’s gotten from parents, boys love her books as much as girls do. The only thing making them “girl’s books” are the adults in the room. And if literature is a major means of learning empathy for others, adults are in effect teaching boys not to empathize with girls. When we tell our boys that they should avoid the stories of women, we are teaching them not to listen to women. These lessons trickle down into classroom behavior and, when the children grow up, the workplace. But even if we aren’t explicitly or implicitly shielding our sons from books with female protagonists, they may still be hard to come by. A 2011 study found wide disparities in the gender of central characters in book publishing overall, finding that books overwhelmingly opted for male leads. To combat this institutional bias, we must actively ensure that our boys are reading books with female main characters. Further, we need to stop treating books with female leads as lesser books only for women’s entertainment, especially to our boys. When we teach them these stories don’t matter, we teach them that the female experience doesn’t matter. That lesson carries into the workplace, the classroom, even their love life. At JEI, we believe that reading is for everyone. Our Reading & Writing enrichment program takes children through a whirlwind of literary genres, including non-fiction. For instance, our curriculum includes Matilda, Roald Dahl’s classic novel. In it, the title character, a precocious five-year-old girl, survives her world of abuse at the hands of her parents by playing ingenious pranks on them. At school, Matilda’s classmates are terrorized by the tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull whose punishments are so outlandishly severe that no parent would believe their child. Matilda uses her wit, her leadership skills, and her unexpected powers of telekinesis to run Miss Trunchbull out of town. This novel shows boys that girls can be powerful and intelligent, able to take control of the world around them. Matilda and other female-led stories such as Harriet the Spy and The Cam Jensen Mysteries teach boys that women can take proactive roles to change the world they live in. The first step to our boys seeing female characters with a full range of emotion and experience is getting these books into their hands. JEI’s Reading & Writing program is a great way to start that process. Summer is a great time to get started with this program. Each month, your child will read one book while completing assignments testing core competencies like reading comprehension and vocabulary, usually as essay prompts. To get started with our Reading & Writing program, find a JEI Learning Center near you.
How our children’s social lives affect their academic success
Having friends teaches our children social and emotional skills that cannot be taught through instruction. But did you know that friendship can also boost academic achievement? Research has consistently shown that friendship and group membership in school is positively related to academic performance. In a 2018 meta-analysis of 22 different scientific studies, Kathryn Wentzel and her research team concluded that “working together with a friend and simply having a friend were related significantly and positively both to cognitive and performance outcomes.” As parents, we can’t control our children’s acceptance by their peers. We can, however, help them develop the social skills necessary to build and maintain friendships. First, parents need to model good social behavior. When talking to your child, it’s important to talk to them in a manner that your child can emulate. This means demonstrating good emotional management by resolving conflicts in a civil, constructive way. Another way parents can teach good social skills is to validate their child’s emotions. This means not trivializing or punishing problematic emotions, but rather talking through your children’s emotions with them so they can better understand and control their feelings. One thing that might be particularly difficult for parents is granting their children the freedom to figure out social relationships. This doesn’t mean disconnecting entirely from your children’s social life, but rather asking questions about their friendships. Ask them what they do with their friends, how they feel about who they hang out with, and what kind of influence those friends are having. We can’t control our kids’ social lives, but we can help our children take stock of their relationships to make the right choices when choosing friends. We can also put our children in enriching social situations where they can develop friendships around positive activities. At JEI, our intimate classroom environment allows our students to build relationships centered around learning. Our Reading & Writing program, in particular, puts children in conversation with each other around classic children’s stories as well as some non-fiction. To enroll your child in our programs, find a JEI Learning Center near you.
Why is it okay to be bad at math?
“I’m bad at math.” It’s something we hear all the time. Often, it’s greeted with knowing smiles and laughs. However, “I’m bad at reading” does not meet such a warm reception. Why is it that we treat literacy as a vital skill that can be worked on while we treat numeracy as a quaint talent that is innate? History of Writing Numbers Although the origins of speech and counting remain relatively unknown, writing of both letters and numbers emerged around the 4th millennium BCE. In ancient Sumer around 3100 BCE, there were dozens of local, incompatible number systems for counting specific things–objects, grain, weights, etc. For the most part, written language and written numbers were largely the province of large ancient institutions–temples, palaces, etc.–which handled things like long-distance trade, taxation, and sacred offerings. The average peasant, largely self-sufficient and rarely interacting with markets, had little need for writing, linguistic or numerical. It wasn’t until the dawn of capitalism that numeracy became a requirement for the average person. Prior to capitalism, the average person had little interaction with markets. Peasants made the food they ate, the clothes they wore, and anything else that they needed for their daily lives. The idea of having a job that provided an income that you would then have to budget was completely anathema to most people prior to capitalism. With capitalism came specialization. Individuals did a particular job for an income that they could spend on the products of the labor of others. Increasingly, individuals made little of what they used in the home, opting to buy instead. This requires not only addition and subtraction to account for individual transactions, but also multiplication and division to calculate income and expenditure over the long run. The Mathematics of Daily Life Dr. Leah Saal and her research team at Loyola University, Maryland have been studying the impact of numeracy skills on employability. In a paper presented at the 2018 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies research conference, Saal and her team demonstrated that numeracy skills were predictive of having no experience with paid work or being long-term unemployed. They also found that these effects were amplified for marginalized groups such as women, older adults, and racial or ethnic minorities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. have weak numeracy skills. To combat this, Saal and her team recommend a number of policies aimed at improving adult education. Among these recommendations are adding numeracy programming to workforce development curricula and making “low levels of numeracy” an identified employment barrier under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act the way that “low levels of literacy” is. Numeracy Skills Start Young While it’s good to acquire numeracy skills at any age, starting early saves on catch up time and lost employability. A 2010 study showed that early numeracy demonstrated in kindergarten predicts performance in first-grade math. Another study found similar results in home and preschool numeracy development’s effect on 3rd-grade performance. Yet another found that preschool numeracy has positive impacts throughout primary school. The research tells us that developing literacy early is paramount to lifetime success. Given that nearly one-third of adults in the US lack numeracy skills, it’s apparent that the school system alone is insufficient for ensuring numeracy. JEI’s Math program, as well as our more advanced Problem Solving Math enrichment program, can set your child up for a future of numeracy and all the benefits that come with it. To get your child started, find a JEI Learning Center near you!