Why Stories and Language Matter


Boy in Library 2


For more than a decade I have been writing and publicly speaking about the importance of language in helping boys to develop empathy – connection to a world larger than themselves. Studies plainly demonstrate that better language skills improve emotional intelligence, peer relationships, and life success. On the opposite end, boys lacking basic language skills are at high risk for antisocial behavior. It’s simply easier to process your emotions when you think in words. Boys who react to life tend to get in trouble – they tend to fill our abundant and overflowing prisons.

Recently, I’ve come across an article by Jerry Diakiw Education Canada that so succinctly and eloquently makes the argument that I want to share it with you. This article is a tour de force. It makes clear that broad public discussion about education and child development are central to our well-being.

A few excerpts:

If I were a father living in poverty, I would dedicate myself to encouraging my children to be engaged readers of relevant, age-appropriate fiction. If I were a school teacher, I would dedicate my professional development time to learn strategies to promote and develop engaged readers of meaningful and relevant novels, short stories and drama, no matter if I was a Grade 1 teacher or Grade 12 Physics teacher. It is the most important thing I could do for a child, especially a boy.

A perplexing issue within this broad realization is the disturbing disconnect between boys and reading. It verges on a problem of epidemic proportions. Finding ways to develop engaged readers is important for every child, but particularly for boys.

The state of Arizona forecasts the number of future prison cells needed based on Grade 4 state reading scores. Perhaps we should examine what they know that we may not. Increasingly, new research across many countries is showing that the best predictor of future education achievement and life success is reading ability – or, more significantly, being an engaged reader.


Where do these ideas lead us? Hopefully, to the library. So much time in boys’ lives is dedicated to sports and competition, but what about reading, and especially, frequent discussion of books? In my own book, On Purpose Before Twenty, I have written about the need for Wisdom Culture within school, pivoting around literature and frequent discussion of literary themes. Please don’t tell me this isn’t interesting to boys. IT FASCINATES THEM, if only they can be led by those who understand the power of books and art. There is so much untapped intelligence and capability among school-age boys, we ought to be shamed by how long it has been allowed to remain fallow.

Young minds enriched by ample amounts of art and literature are stronger, more capable minds.

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