Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Decline in Reading

I came across this yesterday at the NewYorkTimes.com. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has done a follow-up study to their depressing 2004 report entitled "Reading at Risk." In the earlier report, less than half of Americans (over 18) read for pleasure. This new report sought to build a broader picture by including information on nonfiction reading, as well. The new report claims a link between poor reading scores among children and the decline in reading in this country. Not surprisingly, digital media is blamed for the decline in reading, especially among those under 18.

Statistics regarding the consequences follow. This is my favorite part of any report like this. I just think they're fun. Here are a couple of examples to tide you over until you can read through the entire 99-page report. ". . . nearly three-quarters of employers who were polled rated 'reading comprehension' as 'very important' for workers with two-year college degrees, and nearly 90 percent of employers said so for graduates of four-year colleges." Next, "the data showed that 7 percent of full-time workers who scored at levels deemed 'below basic' on reading tests earned $850 to $1,149 a week, the fourth-highest income bracket, while 20 percent of workers who had scored at reading levels deemed 'proficient' earned such wages." So, you have to be able to read well to get a good-paying job. Makes sense to me. I like to casually drop these quotes into conversations with my sons, one of whom is a sophomore in college and the other is a senior in high school. Yes, I am not above using scare tactics on my children. I think I've mentioned before that much to my chagrin neither of my children like to read.

Like its predecessor, the new report is not without its share of controversy. There are some who believe that the report exaggerates the problem. Some also believe that people may be doing more reading than is reported, such as reading material via the Internet.

Of course, I believe reading is important (I'm a librarian, for heaven's sake!), but I'm not sure if the situation is all that dire. Yes, I agree that people should spend more time reading. However, I disagree with a statement made by the chairman of the NEA, Mr. Dana Gioia, when he said, "we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading." What? Reading groups and book clubs have grown in popularity over the last several years. I haven't done any type of research to support my claim, but I believe it none the less. There are countless online book discussion groups, and many of the social networking sites are devoted to book lovers (i. e. LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari). Two of the major television networks have book clubs on their morning show, and then of course there is Oprah. Love her or hate her, she has gotten people reading and talking about books. Reading and belonging to a book club has become somewhat fashionable these days.

I don't have a solution to the decline in reading scores. But, I do have some suggestions if anyone is interested. First, get rid of things that take the fun out of reading. Kids hate reading because they associate it with unpleasantness -- tests. Accelerate Reader (AR) and No Child Left Behind both focus on quantity and evaluation. Where's the fun in that? Let people see you reading. Talk about what you're reading. And for heaven's sake, if you're a parent, read to your child early and often. In addition, support programs that provide literacy training to adults, as well. That's my two cents on the matter!


Tara said...

Well said. My (almost!) six year old is just learning how to make sense of the puzzles that are words....it brings so much joy to see her begin to make sense of her world and see all the things that open up to you once you can read. I also hope she comes to love reading... she certainly knows her mom does. I was thinking, my husband quoted to me some statistics from Freakonomics I cannot remember exactly but the gist was that statistics show that just having books in your home is so important for kids. Which we do.

Stephanie said...

This just makes me so sad! I also think that the increase in video games and movies has helped reading become "less" fun. Not quite the instant gratification.

Man...I should have been a librarian!!

Lisa said...

I agree. I think that all of the instant gratification has led many children to have very short attention spans. Yeah, being a librarian is pretty cool (most of the time).

I have read similar statistics, as well. In fact, this report uses some similar quotes, though I haven't read the entire thing. But, yes just having books in the home does make a difference. Of course, seeing you read them will be that much better! I always read to my boys, and my house is absolutely full of books. They loved reading when they were small, but lost interest during the middle school years. I hope they will come back to it after they get out of college and have some time to read fun stuff.

Book Calendar said...

I am a librarian also and I wrote about the same report this morning. I included a link to the report in my post. I am not going to put it here because that would be spam, specifically link dropping. It is also almost synchronius. I have other interests, so my response will seem much more disjointed. This report could be tremendously important for librarians. Hopefully it will help library funding and put us back on the track to focusing on reading and self-- education.

Lisa said...

Book Calendar,
It would be great to think that increased funding could be a result of this report. I'm not going to hold my breath, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Thanks for stopping by.

Dorothy W. said...

I should tell my students those statistics -- that might encourage them to read more!

Maggie said...

I happen to believe that kids are doing a heck of a lot of reading online. Facebook and Myspace have blogs attached where kids talk about their day, and other kids who sign up for their friends blogs, can read and respond. I occasionally see gaming at the computers, but I always see students engaged in social networking. They get comic strips sent to them daily and read fanzines or regular zines online as well.

Lisa said...

I agree Maggie. I guess I would just like to see them doing more traditional 'book' reading. But, I guess reading is reading. My youngest son is a senior this year, and he just took the SAT again a few weeks ago. He made very well on the verbal/reading section. I never see him reading a book, but he does engage in all of the social networking you mentioned. I guess I just want him to feel the same way about books as I do. Maybe he will later on in life.