Monday, May 28, 2018

Why Gender Matters - Leonard Sax

Title: Why Gender Matters: Who Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Science of Sex Differences
Author: Leonard Sax
Publisher: Harmony Books, 2017 (Second Edition) (Paperback)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 21, 2018
Finished: May 25, 2018

From the back cover:

When first published in 2005, Why Gender Matters broke ground in illuminating differences between boys and girls - how they perceive the world, learn, process emotions, and take risks. Dr. Sax showed that when we overlook their differences, we may end up reinforcing damaging stereotypes and fail to help our kids reach their full potential.

In the years since, the world has changed. An avalanche of new research supports, deepens, and expands Dr. Sax's work. This indispensable guide for parents and educators is thoroughly revised and updated to include new findings about how boys and girls interact with social media and video games; differences in how they see, hear, and smell; and guidance about how to support gender-nonconforming, LGB, and transgender kids. Dr. Sax accessibly weaves the science with stories and insights from his decades of clinical experience to show how to raise happier, healthier kids.

After reviewing this author's books on parentingboys, and girls, I finally get to the book on gender differences. Right off the bat, I notice that this book does contain a lot of repeat material from the other three books. The other books definitely go into more detail in each of their subject areas, but there were certain sections that were repeated verbatim in this book. That doesn't necessarily negate the existence of this book, since this particular instalment goes into details that the other three do not: differences in sight, smell, hearing, among others. There are even sections on differences regarding homosexual and transgender kids.

What I found interesting were the points made on sense differences between boys and girls, namely that you need to speak louder to the average boy than the average girl to have him hear you the same. This actually makes sense in the classroom, especially since most boys end up sitting at the back of the room when you let them pick their own seats. Also, boys tend to be more risk-takers than girls, so while you need to give boys a safer channel for their risk-taking, you need to encourage girls more since they tend to be risk-averse. These are points that I definitely see anecdotally in my career, but its nice to see research back it up as well.

The author's chapter on transgender children might be a bit controversial. The author poses that while transgender children definitely do exist, he believes, based on research, that the prevalence we're seeing in recent years is more about restrictive gender roles than about kids actually believing they were meant to be the opposite gender...that if gender roles were more flexible and kids saw that, we'd see less children identifying as transgender. While I do think gender roles are still too restrictive these days, especially for boys, I'm not sure how I feel about the author's point here.

Definitely worth a read, though you will notice some content repetition if you've read the author's other books.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nice and modern looking.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Girls on the Edge - Leonard Sax

Title: Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls
Author: Leonard Sax
Publisher: Basic Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 258 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 20, 2018
Finished: May 20, 2018

From the inside cover:

Many girls today are engaging in self-destructive behaviour: cutting themselves; obsessing over their appearance, grades, sports, and social networking sites; acting sexy when they don't feel sexyMany have a brittle sense of self. A growing proportion of teen and tween girls are confused about their sexual identity, and there is new evidence that environmental toxins are accelerating their physical maturity faster than their emotional maturity. Many girls today may look confident and strong on the outside, but inside, they're fragile.

In Girls on the Edge, psychologist and physician Leonard Sax provides the tools we need to help girls become independent and confident women. He offers parents practical tips on everything from helping their daughter choose a sports team to deciding limits on social networking sites. Sax also shows how and why girls are more likely to reach their potential if they are involved in communities of women, communities that bridge the generations.

Essential and inspiring, Girls on the Edge points the way to a new future for today's girls and young women.

So after reviewing this author's books on parenting and boys, I've now come to his book on girls, which is fitting and concerns me the most since I'm the parent of daughters.

Similar to the trend with males, the author illustrates that girls are going through a crisis of their own, it's just different from the boys: whereas boys tend to act out their problems, girls tend to turn inward onto themselves. This means girls who don't have a developed sense of self will focus on things that are superficial enough that when they erode and crumble (because they always do), a girl's sense of self crumbles as well, because she chose to focus on ranking and grades, beauty, or intense athleticism. The author identifies four factors driving this crisis in girls: sexual identity (or sexual objectification), the cyberbubble (internet culture), obsessions, and environmental toxins (specifically endocrine disruptors).

I honestly wish this book had been around when I was a teenager, I think it would've saved me some heartache at the very least to be able to put into words all the things I was feeling at the time. I can identify with practically everything the author has compiled here, except for the cyberbubble part since internet culture was in its early days when I was a teenager and I don't believe it had as huge of a formative part of my upbringing as it does for kids nowadays.

The chapter on sexuality is one that echoes a lot of sentiments in other parenting books I've read (specifically on parenting girls). When I found out I was going to have a daughter, one of the first things that hit me was that, based on recent research at the time, my future child would have a fifty percent chance of being molested/sexually assaulted at some point in her life....boys don't come with stats like that. Granted boys have their own toxic gender issues to deal with, and our culture isn't great for boys either, but boys don't have to deal specifically with the sexual objectification and fear of sexual violence the way that girls and women do, so I'm glad there was a chapter devoted to this. Since girls are going through puberty earlier than in the past, girls physically mature long before they mature emotionally, so they're dealing with their "place" in society as this image of sexual gratification before they can even comprehend what this means...and it messes up the psyches of so many girls, I know it did for me.

The chapter on obsessions was really eye-opening for me. I teach so many girls who fall into these various categories: the smart one, the athletic one, the girl who drinks, the girl who obsesses over her appearance (to the point of having an eating disorder), and the girl who cuts herself. The author describes these as "anorexia of the soul," and I can't think of a more poignant word phrase for it. In the absence of a developed sense of self, girls turn to these things to the point of obsession, so the idea is to help girls discover their sense of who they really are by being part of a community of supportive women. The author is also in favour of single-sex classrooms for both girls and boys, which, although backed by research, isn't always a viable option depending on what area you live in.

Like the author's other books I've recently reviewed, this needs to be read even if you don't have daughters or teach young women.

Thoughts on the cover:
I'm not sure if this particular book received a revised and updated edition like the other ones I've read, but hopefully it does at some point just to receive cover art that matches the other updated editions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Boys Adrift - Leonard Sax

Title: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
Author: Leonard Sax
Publisher: Basic Books, 2016 (Revised Edition), (Paperback)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 18, 2018
Finished: May 19, 2018

From the back cover:

Something scary is happening to boys today. From kindergarten to college, American boys are, on average, less resilient and ambitious than they were a mere twenty years ago. The gender gap in academic achievement has widened dramatically. While Emily is working hard at school and getting A's, her brother Justin is goofing off. He's more concerned about getting to the next level in his video game than about finishing his homework. Now, Dr. Leonard Sax delves into the scientific literature and draws on more than twenty years of clinical experience to explain why boys and young men are underperforming in school and disengaged at home. Hw shows how social, cultural, and biological factors have created and environment toxic to boys. He also presents practical solutions, sharing strategies that educators have found effective in reengaging boys at school, as well as handy tips for parents about everything from homework and video games to medication. Revised and updated throughout, this new edition of Boys Adrift points us toward a brighter future for America's sons.

I don't have a son, though I have been privileged to work with some lovely boys and young men, many of whom I would want a hypothetical son of mine to emulate. However, that can't be said for all the boys and young men I have encountered in my teaching career. The author is correct when he says we are facing an epidemic of unmotivated and underachieving boys and young men, I have seen the trend for years now: the girls are fine for the most part academically, but its rare to find a motivated, ambitious boy nowadays.

The author gives several reasons for this trend, all backed by research and studies: schools becoming unwelcoming to boys, video games, prescription drugs (specifically for ADHD), environmental toxins (specifically endocrine disruptors), and the devaluation of masculinity. Again, not every incidence of an unmotivated and underachieving male is a result of these five things, but I do think they heavily contribute in many cases (going purely by anecdotal experience). Reading this book actually makes me fear for boys in general, they have so much stacked against them. For those with sons though, don't worry, the author does offer some decent solutions (not all are viable or realistic though). And I got my own own dose of fear for my own offspring while reading the author's companion book on girls (review to follow shortly).

I do agree that schools have become unfriendly to boys in regards to fears of litigation leading to over-cautious safety rules. I'm all for letting boys be physical at recess and in gym class so long as they understand the risks and don't affect others who don't wish to be affected, but I understand why schools have made this change (damn parents who will sue for things most consider genuine accidents). In terms of content, I try to include action-oriented stories and assignments, or at least offer them as options where available, perhaps because I'm a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the types of content I personally enjoy, so I assume the kids are too. The author's idea of starting in the middle of a text in a particularly appealing scene would totally work for most of the boys I teach, so he does offer some good strategies for making the classroom more boy-friendly.

The author's opinions on ADHD medications can certainly be controversial. Is ADHD a legitimate medical condition? Of course it is. Do some people benefit from medications prescribed for such a condition? Damn straight. Are there people who are prescribed said medication unnecessarily? I believe so, yes. In my experiences with my own daughter, so many conditions can present as ADHD, the symptoms are the exact same. Until we literally start doing brain scans as part of an ADHD assessment, we'll never truly know which kid legitimately has ADHD and which kid might have anxiety, giftedness, sensory processing disorder, or simply sleep deprivation. So I do agree with the author that a thorough assessment needs to be done to eliminate any other possible condition the child might have, and to try other options and therapies before jumping on the medication bandwagon. Again, I've gone through it with my own daughter, so a lot of this area comes from personal experience.

The video game aspect is something I whole-heartedly agree with, especially since my grade 9 class (of mostly boys) is currently obsessed with Fortnite. In the absence of real-world goals, some boys turn to violent video games. Again, not all video games are bad, but I think most people agree that 10 and 11-year-olds shouldn't be playing uber violent games like Grand Theft Auto (or insert random violent game title here), and of course kids should have more varied hobbies and interests than just video games. It doesn't help that many boys (and girls too for that matter) don't have many healthy role models in their lives, and those that do don't often recognize that fact due to being blinded by popular culture.

The endocrine disruptor aspect is an idea I've heard quite a bit of research on over the years, so I don't doubt that hypothesis either. It's just unfortunate that there aren't always a ton of viable solutions to this area.

Like my previous review on this author's book on parenting, I think this should be a must-read for anyone involved with children period (whether you have sons or not). It not only addresses trends and patterns people working with children have been noticing for years, but it also offers up solutions to help work against these trends.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's a parenting book, so I don't exactly expect it to blow me away, but it is a nice touch that the accent colours used are "stereotypical boy colours."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Collapse of Parenting - Leonard Sax

Title: The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grownups
Author: Leonard Sax
Publisher: Basic Books, 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 287 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 11, 2018
Finished: May 12, 2018

From the back cover:

In The Collapse of Parenting, internationally acclaimed author Leonard Sax argues that rising levels of obesity, depression, and anxiety among young people can be traced back to parents abdicating their authority. The result is children who have only a slippery grasp of right and wrong, who lack discipline, and who look to their peers and the Internet for direction. sax shows how parents must reassert their authority - by limiting time with screens, by prioritizing the family, and by teaching humility and perspective, among other strategies - to refresh and renew their relationship with their children. Drawing on more than twenty-five years of experience as a family physician and psychologist, along with hundreds of interviews with children, parents, and teachers, sax offers a blueprint parents can use to help their children thrive in a changing world.

My colleagues and I had a professional development day last week, and this author was one of our guest speakers. We received a copy of this book at the end of the talk, and needless to say, I devoured it within 24 hours.

I've been blessed as a teacher in that up until this year, I really haven't had to deal with difficult parents in particular, but this year alone I've had several incidents related to overbearing parents and administration not willing to stand up to them. After each incident, I remember thinking to myself that neither my parents nor any of the parents of the kids I went to school with (circa late 80s and throughout the 90s) would've had the gall to even consider calling a teacher to complain about or request half the things I've had the privilege of entertaining from modern parents so far in my teaching career. Since I parent my daughter similarly to how I was parented, I wondered if parenting on a large scale had really changed all that much since my childhood, and according to the author the answer is yes.

To paraphrase the author's research, which echoes much of my anecdotal experience, in the interest of giving children more of a say in decisions that affect them, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction and parents have essentially abdicated their parental authority over their children. As a result of parents neglecting their job to specifically teach cultural values and morals to children, kids turn to their peers and internet culture to learn what is valued and what they should emulate. Which is, in my experience, being materialistic and obnoxious.

The author further goes on to say that most of the problems recognized in kids nowadays: lack of healthy eating habits and general fitness, a larger number of kids being medicated for anxiety/depression/ADHD etc., that America has fallen behind in academic standing compared to the rest of the world, and that kids are so damn fragile compared to previous generations, can be traced back to this abdication of parental authority. While I don't personally believe that every single instance in each of these categories can be chalked up to crappy parenting, I do think the author's hypothesis makes a good overall point that definitely does apply to many modern day families. He argues for a focus on the family that isn't rushed or over scheduled (and without screen-time) in order for kids to get their value systems from their parents rather than peers or the internet. He compels parents to diversify their kids' activities so their identity isn't completely composed of just one thing, and also to help develop empathy by spending time with others from all walks of life. These are things I can completely agree with, and I think following those would facilitate a huge change for many families, but I do acknowledge that even giving this advice comes from a place of privilege and that this isn't possible for all families, especially given our culture's inability to find a good work-life balance.

I especially liked the author's final chapter on what the purpose of life is. Many kids I find (and a good chunk of adults) seem to think life is just about being successful and making money. Many find out later that life should be about more than that, something that gives your life meaning. The author argues that through proper parenting and cultivating values in children throughout their young life, young adults will be well adjusted enough to handle their post secondary lives because they know exactly why they are working so hard at whatever they choose to do, to achieve that personal meaningful existence.

I think anyone who works with kids in any capacity should read this, it gives a lot of insight into how many modern parents operate and explains a lot of the behaviours we're witnessing in this generation of kids.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like these new updated covers compared to the original releases.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Brightly Burning - Alexa Donne

Title: Brightly Burning
Author: Alexa Donne
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 1 2018 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Started: April 26, 2018
Finished: May 3, 2018

From the back cover:

A lush and enthralling reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre, set among the stars.

Stella Ainsley leaves poverty behind when she quits her engineering job aboard the Stalwart to become a governess on a private ship. On the Rochester, there's no water ration, more books than one person could devour in a lifetime, and an AI who seems more friend than robot.

But no one warned Stella that the ship seems to be haunted, nor that it may be involved in a conspiracy that could topple the entire interstellar fleet. Surrounded by mysteries, Stella forges a warm connection with the brooding but kind, nineteen-year-old Captain Hugo. But as they grow closer, his unpredictable behaviour causes suspicions to mount. Without knowing who to trust, Stella must decide whether to follow her head or her heart.

Alexa Donne's breathtaking debut will seduce and beguile you, a story perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer and Amie Kaufman.

Jane Eyre.

In space.

'Nuff said.

Like my obsession with Beauty and the Beast, I will devour any type of Jane Eyre retelling faster than you can blink. So of course I had to read a version that not only incorporates science fiction elements, but does so quite well in my opinion.

Though this version obviously has to deviate from specific details from the original, I think it manages to both capture the spirit of the original while being daring enough to be creatively different.

In the wake of a new ice age on earth, humanity has taken to the skies, living in spaceship communities. In a world where one's lifespan is half of what it once was, most youth are married and well-versed in their apprenticed careers by age eighteen. As she approaches her own eighteenth birthday, Stella longs to escape the poverty and dead-end path she walks along on the Stalwart. Though she lives a companionable existence with friends who were also orphaned in childhood, Stella longs for something more. When she lands a governess position on the Rochester, she is presented with an environment where class lines are blurred and she is seen as an equal for the first time in her life. When secrets and conspiracies threaten her new home, Stella is forced to choose between who she loves, and what she knows is right.

First off, I have to give the author credit for her stellar (yes, I'm going with the space puns) world building skills. Details of Stella's world are revealed as she gives a lesson to the children on the Stalwart, which again fits in nicely given the original story. I was quite impressed with how she managed to incorporate not only the key features of the original story, but also kept the feminist themes and examination of social class in a believable science fiction environment. I also like how the plot was changed so that Stella and Hugo's conflict has a more far-reaching effect than Jane and Edward's did in the original story, there's actually more at stake than just their own happiness. Just as an aside, the scene with Hugo and Stella in the library made my bookworm heart skip a beat, so kudos to the author for writing that scene.

The only thing I would say was a bit of a disappointment was the writing. I was expecting a more sophisticated type of novel, and it ended up being more juvenile in tone than I anticipated. Plus, sometimes you'll get vocabulary from the original novel interspersed with casual modern speech, it's a bit jarring and made me wonder which time period I was actually in. Also, the romance between Stella and Hugo wasn't as believable as Jane and Edward's; I think if the book were longer and they had more time to interact that would've improved a bit.

It doesn't have the same romantic feel as the original, but the overall spirit and themes of Jane Eyre are well-represented here, as is the science fiction elements.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's not bad, but not overly impressive either.