Friday, January 25, 2008

Reading Fundamentals

Last Book Read: Dawn by Octavia Butler

Another long post with the addition of a hastily and poorly built soap box.

Last November the National Endowment for the Arts released a report on reading and literacy in America. It made many splashy headlines. I decided it was important that I read the actual report rather than rely on the reporters.

I urge you (yes, you) to read it for yourself. Click here to open the (very large) PDF document.

There are a lot of statistics and graphs and charts. Bottom line: In America, we don't read so good. Or often. And it's getting worse.

The report doesn't blame any single cause (*cough*TV*cough*), showing how our leisure time, especially today, has many demands (*cough,cough*TV*cough,cough*).

It does have very interesting data on the impact of reading on all test scores, the economic benefits of reading competence by way of wages, and the involvement of frequent readers in volunteer, arts, and civic organizations and activities. The conclusion: Reading frequently is very important.

I think you all knew that.

There is one trend that I found fascinating. The report uses data covering about 18 years. The percentage of 9-year-old children who read almost every day for fun has been incredibly consistent over that time period, about 54%.

At age 13, that percentage has just as consistently dropped to around 30%. It drops again at 17, where the decline has been a bit steeper of late.

But regardless of the alternative entertainment media available, regardless of political flavors in office or reforms made in schools, east coast-west coast-and in between, regardless of everything, over the past 20+ years, lots of kids between age 9 and 13 significantly reduce the amount of reading they do for fun.

Just as the report doesn't try to pin blame (*cough*cough*cough*), it also doesn't propose any solution. Seems to me, when you get out of the habit of doing something, it's hard to get back into it. If 9-13 year olds are getting out of the habit of reading frequently for enjoyment, THOSE ARE THE KIDS WE SHOULD FOCUS ON.

In my humble opinion.

I'll be the first to step up and say 'mea culpa'. Once my daughter learned to read, I got out of the habit of reading to her. We go to the library every week. She gets piles of books and loves to read. If she can do it herself, mission accomplished, right?

Looks like, not.

Think globally, act locally. I've got a couple years before my daughter enters that 9-13 danger zone. Time to regularly read together again.

I'll also mention the 826 National organization, whose chapters are devoted to tutoring 6-18 year olds in "expository and creative writing." Writing and reading go hand in hand.

The Boston chapter currently has a book drive. Next week I'll be swinging by to make a donation.

If you have the means via books or treasure, consider donating to a local library, school, or other non-profit geared toward getting and keeping kids reading.

And if you have access to a 9-13 year-old, WITH THEIR PARENTS' PERMISSION, sit them down and read a book with them. They may not like it, and they sure as hell won't thank you, but they will be better for it.

We all will.


Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

I saw we develop chairs like those the Vogons used to enhance their poetry, strap the little kids in them and read to them. he he he.

Or, well, maybe something less draconian. I guess it was a good thing we were poor and didn't watch too much TV or had any cable to distract us.

January 27, 2008 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

I like the chair idea. We might have to go full on Clockwork Orange for the 13+ crowd.

January 27, 2008 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I was probably about 13 when I fell in love with Clockwork Orange. I think one of the mistakes adults make about young people & reading is to underestimate the interests and abilities of kids.

January 28, 2008 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Camille! You sparked a memory.

Way back when, the city library had a section reserved for adults. At 10-ish years old, if I strayed too near it, the librarians would scold! Grownups only! No unaccompanied children!

By 12-ish, I must have passed the threshold age, as I could slip by that magic portal without comment. Of course, scarred by the earlier experience, I didn't dare take out any books.

That didn't last long.

January 28, 2008 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger L.A. Mitchell said...

Boys at that age are at even higher risk to put down books than girls. If you browse the shelves, there are so many series books for girls. A writer with a young voice could come up with a great, never been done series idea for boys and be very successful.

January 30, 2008 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Harry Potter, where are you?!

Just kidding.

I agree, L.A., though there are many older series (Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, etc.) which parents could push into the hands of their sons.

I don't think the publishing industry is ignoring boys; it is following the money. Girls and women read more, spend more on books. Makes sense to gear more books toward them.

January 30, 2008 at 8:37 PM  

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