wasting bandwidth since 1999

Reading Changes in How We Communicate

Interesting juxtaposition: Amazon this week announces a digital device for reading printed materials and this report on reading appears on the front page of my analog paper-based news delivery system this morning.

Americans are reading less and their reading proficiency is declining at troubling rates, according to a report that the National Endowment for the Arts will issue today. The trend is particularly strong among older teens and young adults, and if it is not reversed, the NEA report suggests, it will have a profound negative effect on the nation’s economic and civic future.

Completely aside from the topic, I love the way these studies use the words “alarming”, “crisis”, “risk” as if they have any meaning anymore.

Anyway, before everyone jumps all over schools for not doing a good job of teaching reading (more phonics!!), decode these two sentences from the summary which tell a big story.

We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. [emphasis mine]

If children don’t see their parents or other adults reading on a regular basis (not just on Dr. Seuss’ birthday), they will not emulate that behavior.

Beyond that, however, every day the society around them primarily communicates using something other than long form, written materials. Should we expect kids to voluntarily do any different?

Which brings us to a larger question that this report raised in my warped little mind, should we be teaching a subject called “reading” at all?

Maybe the whole process of decoding and understanding written materials should be put in the overall context of learning how to communicate in the real world.

Possibly the subject of “reading” needs to be downgraded, becoming one part (an important one, I grant you) of the students’ communications/media literacy skill set.

A skill set most schools largely ignore. Except for reading, of course.

education, reading, media literacy


  1. Eric Hoefler

    Some good questions here, Tim. I like the idea of expanding our conceptions of necessary skill sets. I’ve often wondered about the terms “reading” and “writing” for what we’re doing in “English” class. Literacy and communication seem closer to useful.

  2. Karen Janowski

    That same article was on the front page of the Boston Globe today and I had several reactions to it. How do we define “reading” in 2007? Are we talking about reading books while holding them in our hands? How about listening to audio books, or digital books or reading emails or blogs, wikis, facebook, newspapers online, etc. etc? Where does that fit in?
    I watched my own children morph from voracious readers in elementary and middle school to seeing reading as drudgery in HS. Why? Because they were assigned summer reading (at least four specific books over which they had no choice. ) And they were tested on whether they had read them the first week of school. How to kill reading for pleasure.
    I also wondered if reading in the adult population shows similar statistical declines.

  3. Frank Baker

    The problem, in my opinion, is that most (teachers, parents, students, textbook publishers, etc.) do not yet recognize the importance of READING THE MEDIA..to treat media as texts too. For more info, go to my website, The Media Literacy Clearinghouse, http://www.frankwbaker.com

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