Monday, November 19, 2007

National Reading Habits

The front page feature of the Star Tribune discusses our nation's reading habits. The National Endowment of the Arts released its latest study that says book reading is falling by the wayside. If you don't want to click through to the story or the report, here are some of the facts:

  • Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.
  • On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.
  • Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.
(UPDATE Nov. 21, 2007: Another article to read, if interested, from MinnPost.)

In general, we're not reading as much, and we're not reading as well. I find this astounding. I believe it - college freshman are not prepared for college reading, and that only continues the vicious cycle into adulthood - but it still upsets me. I'm as big of a TV fan as anyone, maybe bigger. And yes, many of my nights are spent in front of the TV for three hours of my favorite primetime shows. However, I would be lost without being able to escape in a book. I love my lunch break for the 45 minutes it gives me to read, and my bus ride for the 20 minutes each way it gives me to read. If I didn't have this time during the day, I would make time.

Now, the Strib article looks at both sides. Is the NEA getting worked up over nothing? While there's a decline amongst book readers, that doesn't mean they're not getting their reading time on the Web and are really learning through electronic means, such as blogs, Second Life, CD-ROMs, etc. However, I still agree with the NEA in that Web-based reading can't compare to reading a novel or a textbook. Reading practice, especially through the developmental adolescent stages, makes you a better reader in the end. I used to be a slow reader in elementary school and I was embarrassed by it. When I started to read for fun - reading Babysitter Club and Sweet Valley Twins series so quickly because I couldn't wait to get the next one - my reading for school only improved. I could retain information faster, read my homework faster, in turn getting my homework done faster. This skill helped me greatly through high school and college.

I worry that kids (and adults) who get their reading from the Web have shorter attention spans, making reading for school, work or even for leisure that much harder. And in turn, not fun. Reading is supposed to be fun! Some of my best moments come from reading: waiting eagerly for Harry Potter books over the years and then consuming them as quickly as I could; being wholly surprised about liking a book I never thought I would (Frankenstein, thanks to freshman Lit); having mini book clubs with my girlfriends discussing the Traveling Pants series, even if we're a bit too old for them; and all the laughter, tears, confusion and epiphanies that have come from reading.

I do agree with the article that reading books and Web-based learning do have to go hand in hand now. Kids have to learn how to navigate cyberspace, learn the difference between trustworthy sources and crap, and learn how to participate in conversations started by their peers on blogs and wikis. But hopefully future generations won't forget what a new book smells like and how satisfying it is to shut the back cover after you've read that last page. Your thoughts?

1 comment:

willikat said...

also, computers do not SMELL like new books. can't beat that smell. or that sound of the spine cracking. luscious. there's something much more tactile about reading. . .