Monday, November 19, 2007

what do we think?

i just read this article and am so disheartened! as an avid reaer, i am attemting to raise two readers, and find that a life of reading has increased my awareness of language, social and cultural issues, history... the list goes on and on! i think we'd be a better educated society if everyone read just a few more books. and not the "goosip girl" books.

NEW YORK — The latest National Endowment for the Arts report draws on a variety of sources, public and private, and essentially reaches one conclusion: Americans are reading less.

The 99-page study, "To Read or Not to Read," is being released Monday as a follow-up to a 2004 NEA survey, "Reading at Risk," that found an increasing number of adult Americans were not even reading one book a year.

"To Read or Not to Read" gathers an array of government, academic and foundation data on everything from how many 9-year-olds read every day for "fun" (54 percent) to the percentage of high school graduates deemed by employers as "deficient" in writing in English (72 percent).

"I've done a lot of work in statistics in my career, and I've never seen a situation where so much data was pulled from so many places and absolutely everything is so consistent," NEA chairman Dana Gioia said.

Among the findings:

• In 2002, only 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59 percent in 1992.

• Money spent on books, adjusted for inflation, dropped 14 percent from 1985 to 2005 and has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s.

• The number of adults with bachelor's degrees and "proficient in reading prose" dropped from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.

Some news is good, notably among 9-year-olds, whose reading comprehension scores have soared since the early 1990s.

But at the same time, the number of 17-year-olds who "never or hardly ever" read for pleasure has doubled, to 19 percent, and their comprehension scores have fallen.

"I think there's been an enormous investment in teaching kids to read in elementary school," Gioia said. "Kids are doing better at 9, and at 11. At 13, they're doing no worse, but then you see this catastrophic falloff. ... If kids are put into this electronic culture without any counterbalancing efforts, they will stop reading."

Publishers and booksellers have noted that teen fiction is a rapidly expanding category in an otherwise flat market, but the NEA's director of research, Sunil Iyengar, wondered how much of that growth has been caused by the "Harry Potter" books, the last of which came out in July.

"It's great that millions of kids are reading these long, intricate novels, but reading one such book every 18 months doesn't make up for daily reading," Gioia said.

Doug Whiteman, president of the Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA), said sales of teen books were the strongest part of his business. But he added that a couple of factors could explain why scores were dropping: Adults are also buying the "Potter" books, thus making the teen market seem bigger on paper, and some sales are for non-English language books.

"There are so many nuances," Whiteman said. "Reading scores don't necessarily have any relevance to today's sales."

The head of Simon & Schuster's children's publishing division, Rick Richter, saw another reason why sales could rise even as scores go down: A growing gap between those who read and those who don't. Richter considers it "very possible" that the market is driven by a relatively small number of young people who buy large numbers of books. Test scores, meanwhile, are lowered by the larger population of teens who don't read.

"A divide like that is really a cause for concern," Richter said.

The report emphasizes the social benefits of reading: "Literary readers" are more likely to exercise, visit art museums, keep up with current events, vote in presidential elections and perform volunteer work.

"This should explode the notion that reading is somehow a passive activity," Gioia said. "Reading creates people who are more active by any measure. ... People who don't read, who spend more of their time watching TV or on the Internet, playing video games, seem to be significantly more passive."

Gioia called the decline in reading "perhaps the most important socio-economic issue in the United States," and called for changes "in the way we're educating kids, especially in high school and college. We need to reconnect reading with pleasure and enlightenment."

"'To Read or Not to Read' suggests we are losing the majority of the new generation," Gioia said. "The majority of young Americans will not realize their individual, economic or social potential."


Jay said...

That is truly depressing.

Booklogged said...

I wish there was a solution and that somebody would find it. I know the emphasis on more and more testing at every grade level is not going to help.

I used to encourage my High School study skills students to read. Every Monday each student reported about what they had read that week (fun reading.) I didn't care if it was a page, a chapter or more. One student that had never read finally caught the excitement from others' reports and in his senior year read his first book. Sometimes I read out loud to them and they enjoyed it. I also gave a report of what was I was reading.

gmcountrymama said...

I agree that if kids and adults are reading less it is sad. However, I don't put much stock in so called "studies" these days. It seems that everyone is doing a study on this or that, but they are not following the scientific method in their studies. For example, the latest report on how TV negatively affects our children. First, I say bullshit, then I laugh because the study was actually just a survey of mothers over the telephone!WTF?
I want my kids to read, I love to read, but I won't let some hoytee toytee men in white coats, I mean blue suits, tell me what my kids SHOULD be doing.
Sorry, I got off track, been hitting the wine pretty hard tonight.

Family Adventure said...

Melissa, I read somewhere (no pun intended) that Americans read fewer newspapers than any other western country. Another symptom, I think. In North America, we're getting too used to 'instant gratification'. We don't want to work for information/knowledge/enjoyment, and reading is 'work' for some. Instead, we turn to TV or similar media. It's a real shame. I do think there's some positives in a bleak landscape - for instance the blogosphere!


ML said...

That IS sad! I've always loved to read and I certainly cannot understand folks having an aversion.

J at said...

I wonder how much of the drop off in reading is due to too much time spent testing, and too little spent enjoying books? I remember in 6th grade, long after we all KNEW how to read to ourselves, how much I enjoyed being read to for 20 minutes every day in class. Perhaps if someone kept that up, reading to the kids, they would stay interested in reading?

hellomelissa said...

jay-- BEYOND depressing! i have such an urge to read, i have trouble imagining life without it.

booklogged-- it's teachers like you who inspire a LOVE of reading instead of reading as a task to be endured. and the testing issue... don't even get me started. it's enough to make me want to yank my kids out and homeschool them.

heidi-- i totally agree. i started reading the paper in 5th grade and haven't stopped. i find it enlightens me on a zillion different topics DAILY. i was the only one in my dorm to have it delivered daily, and to this day am cranky if it's not at the end of the driveway!

ml-- i don't get it either. and i really hope i am fostering that love in my kids.

j-- both my kids read in school when they are done with their work. it keeps them from being disruptive. they both also read before bed (20 min) and i usually have to beg them to STOP! the kids' school days are so packed (teaching to the test) i doubt if they could afford 20 minutes of time to just read for enjoyment bummer.

melissa said...

hello fellow Melissa! Found your site through Karen Meg...

Raising readers is really hard. So far, I'm doing a good job, but there isn't enough encouragement out there. For my older son, I had to "lower" my standards a bit and "let" him read graphic novels just to keep his excitement up. But we have a deal, if he reads one of those, he has to read a "real" book next.

E. R. Dunhill said...

It seems that there's been some dissent over NEA's findings. You might find this rebuttal to the study interesting.