Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Raise a Reader

Tiddlywinks requires skill and teaches hand/eye coordination. Stamp collecting teaches history, geography, and classification skills, among other things. Both can be replaced by other hobbies with equal claims for offering the same knowledge and a similar skill set.

Reading is in its own category and can't so easily be replaced. Reading (writing, too) is intricately involved with critical thinking, communication, language skills, concentration, and knowledge acquisition. There isn't anything else that functions cognitively the same way that reading does.

Reading isn't replacable!

But reading - the long, slow, digesting, thinking, analyzing kind - is becoming increasingly unpopular, with more and more people admitting that a quick skim of almost anything printed is all they are able to manage. 
Many of the books that adults do read are written at a grade level for younger teens. Many newspapers in recent years have lowered the level of difficulty of the writing to try and cater to readers' diminishing skills.

Patrick Kingsley, in his article "The Art of Slow Reading" in The Guardian (Jul 15/10), writes about the problem, citing many experts who argue that the internet is responsible (and some who argue otherwise).The problem with the internet:
because...we have become very good at collecting a wide range of factual titbits, we are also gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and relate all these facts to each other.
Mark Bauerlein in The Dumbest Generation makes much the same point. He argues that while students (especially) are intelligent and can multi-task, while they have the whole world of information at their fingertips, they don't have either the background knowledge or the cognitive skills to make the connections that lead to real knowledge and real ability to negotiate with the world in many ways. What's missing? Reading ability.

A student once complained to me that the literature we were studying was too difficult and that he didn't like it! While I won't tell you exactly what I thought at the time,  I did wonder what purpose it would serve to have those as two criteria for a university literature course. Unfortunately, ease and fun are becoming two of the most important criteria. The result is exactly what Bauerlein predicts - the dumbest generation.

Bauerlein paraphrases Ronald Reagan - who said that freedom can be lost in a generation - saying that knowledge can be lost in a generation. Sometimes I wonder if it will take that long.

Tiddlywinks may be more fun and easier than reading, but what will kids do if they have to read the instructions?


Judie said...

I am one of those people who are fast readers. What's more, I retain what I read. I read seven books while vacationing in Cancun. People who don't read, don't know what they are missing. If you can pick up a book, you will never suffer from boredom, no matter where you are.

I heard a report yesterday on NPR about students who cheat in high school and college using the internet. The speaker stated that he had much rather they cheat using a book, because then they would actually have to read the book to get the information. With the internet, all you have to do is type in a word or a phrase, and there you have it!!

What is this world coming to? SIGH!!

ChrisJ said...


Cheating is increasing all the time. I'm always floored when I catch students cheating.

Judie said...

Young people see their elders, their sports idols, etc., cheating in one way or another all the time. It shouldn't surprise you that they see it as a way of life.
It certainly doesn't surprise me, but it surely saddens me.

ChrisJ said...


You're right; it's sad, and they are really cheating themselves (a cliche, I know, but true).

Judie said...

Eventually their behavior will jump up and bite them in the ass! We live in such a "gotcha!" society, that no one is exempt from scrutiny.

askcherlock said...

This is so sadly true of our students today. We have had the "dumbing down of America" and soon the piper must be paid as we cannot keep up with the educational systems in other countries. There is no greater joy than reading a good book, but these kids may never know what they have missed.

ChrisJ said...


I think you are absolutely right about the educational piper - and it won't be prett.

cooper said...

I am always surprised to see how little some of my peers know of any kid of literature, or how to analyse for truth or reason out a problem.

ChrisJ said...


As the years go by and I see more and more first-year university students, I am appalled by their lack of skills and knowledge.

I'm glad I'll be retiring in the not-too-distant future.