Monday, November 19, 2007

Read This, If You Still Can

I'm always surprised when I visit the homes of college-educated people, and there's 'nary a shred of reading material -- newspaper, magazine, book -- to be found in the "public" areas.

Perhaps that stash of Ernest Hemingway and Toni Morrison is hidden away somewhere in a back room.

Maybe they're logging hours reading newspapers, books and magazines online.

Probably not.

At any rate, I'm always tempted to be rude and say,

a)"Don't you care about what's going on beyond the four walls of your home?"

b)"Don't you care about the life of the mind?"

c)"Don't you know that if you don't model reading for your kids, if you don't lead by example, then they won't do as well in school, and they'll push on into college and adulthood without developing critical-thinking skills?"

And yet ... the social graces always prevail, and I say nothing.

Now comes a troubling report, "To Read or Not to Read," from the National Endowment for the Arts, that seems to confirm what I've noticed about reading habits.

The upshot: Reading is down, way down, in the United States, and the decline is likely to continue.

Thanks, Al Gore, or whoever's responsible for inventing the Internet. And an extra special thanks to purveyors of video games.

"Data from many sources shows an astonishing consistency," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said during a conference call last week, according to a story in The Hartford Courant. The data are "comprehensive, reliable, nationally focused and up-to-date," Gioia said, "and show the enormous impact of reading and its decline now in the United States."

The report surveyed the reading patterns of children, teenagers and adults.

More findings from the report, according to the Hartford Courant.

•We are reading less. Americans, especially teenagers and young adults but also college graduates, do little recreational reading. Nearly half of those ages 18 to 24 who were surveyed read no books for pleasure at all. Those ages 15 to 24 who read voluntarily did so for only seven to 10 minutes a day. And among college graduates, reading literature, such as fiction, poetry and plays, dropped by 18 percent from 1982 to 2002.

•We are reading less well. Americans who do read are doing it less proficiently, particularly teenagers and young males, although average reading scores for 9-year-olds recently have risen.

"Elementary schools are doing a good job," Gioia said, "but the gains top out in adolescence."

Among adult men and women, proficiency is stagnant or declining at all educational levels, dropping 20 percent from 1993 to 2003 among those with graduate degrees, for example. Those who read the least also had the lowest writing proficiency scores.

•Poor reading skills limit work and life opportunities. Employers rank reading comprehension and written communication skills highly, and those who read least frequently scored lowest in these areas. Poor readers are the most likely to drop out of high school, and low reading ability is common among those in prison.

•Reading correlates with active cultural and civic life. Literary readers were more than three times as likely to visit museums, attend plays or concerts and create art as nonreaders, and more likely to play sports, attend games or do outdoor activities. They also were more likely to do volunteer or charity work and to vote.

More stories on the report:

Washington Post

New York Times


BZ said...

First timer. I see I will have to return. I found myself nodding my head in agreement, both with the sentiment and the cynicism/humor. I have shelves of books in my living room and scores of Newsweek magazines on the coffee table that I donate, regularly. It never ceases to amaze me the lack of reading done my my peers. *sigh*

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more.

Philip Booth said...

BZ - Great to know that others are on the same wavelength. Thanks much for stopping by.

Lorie Briggs said...

Hey, bud. Just checking out your blog. Am reminded that you write well. Gee, here's an idea...this would be a great guest column for someone at a major university....hmmmm...

I actually have to admit I don't like Toni Morrison. I tend to revel in great reads from Carl Hiaasen, Terri McMillan and Tim Dorsey!