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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading at Risk

Chances are that you aren't reading this.  Of course, there could be lots of reasons why but I won't touch any of them - except one; that fewer people are reading today than was the case almost thirty years ago.  At least this is what was reported in an extensive study conducted by the Census Bureau back in 2002 (at the request of the National Endowment in the Arts), and the findings - mixed with anecdotal observations - seem to be even more relevant in soon-to-be 2011. So, if you devote time each day to reading, you're in a club whose membership is dwindling each passing year.

Here are the ten significant findings:
  1. The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years -now 30 - with less than half of the adult American population reading literature.
  2. The decline in literacy reading parallels a decline in total book reading.
  3. The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating  - meaning that the percentage of adults who aren't reading is declining faster than in previous decades.
  4. Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.
  5. Literary reading is declining among whites, African-americans, and Hispanics.
  6. Literary reading is declining among all education levels (the higher the level of education, the higher the reading rate - but it's still declining).
  7. Literary reading is declining among all age groups.
  8. The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.
  9. The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.
  10. The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.
This is telling data - if you've made it this far in the post.  It does not bode well for the future of American democracy if there is a positive correlation between reading rate and voter participation rate - which there is.  But some also feel that it's innacurate data because it doesn't take into account the various forms of literacy that have emerged in this age of technology.  For instance, they claim that individuals need to cultivate a digital literacy that is more visual (video) than the reading literacy addressed in the above report.  Given the various ways in which information is now presented, it calls into question how one actually defines "reading" these days.

No doubt, we're deluged with information from every which way.  And we're challenged in our efforts to manage this information, to sort through and make sense of it. Keep it short.  Keep it simple. Where is the Spark Note version?

We were told back in 2002 by the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association that teenagers entering the 21st century would be reading and writing more than at any other time in human history.  What do you think?  If teenagers are modeling their behavior after the adults described in the above report (see http://eosguidance.blogspot.com/ ), then it may be easy to read the tell-tale signs.

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