Kids Don't Read As Much Today - So What?
What's all the fuss about kids not reading a lot of books any more? Don't they
learn even more from all the other media - TV, movies, music, videos, DVDs,
CD-ROMs and so forth? They have to think to understand what's going on while
they're watching or listening. Isn't that the point of reading, anyway?
ironic? We have so many more books and libraries now than at any time in the
history of the world, and yet young people are reading less and less every
possible that the majority of students are now leaving high school without
having read even one nonfiction book. They may read excerpts here and chapters
there, with brief sections of textbooks and a little online research.
rarely does anybody ever read a complete nonfiction book, with exposition or
explanation of facts on one particular subject, that isn't just "for fun," or
for literary analysis. As it is, the fiction books that are assigned in many
schools are so "dumbed down" compared to the books assigned in past generations
that it's downright alarming to anyone who loves the world of ideas and wants
most people to live there, as they do.
blame the teachers: they are forced to water down their assignments because
kids either can't read, or won't read, the way kids used to.
Berniece Cullinan of New York University studied fifth graders, and found that
50% read four minutes a day or less, and yet the same group of children
averaged 130 minutes a day of TV watching.
course, some students, encouraged by their parents, and helped by their
librarian, read a lot of books on their own. Homeschoolers, especially, are
strong there, and homeschooled children may read 10 or even 100 times as many
books as their counterparts in organized classrooms, simply because their
schedules are flexible and free for reading.
for the current discomfort and disdain for reading are many. Ironically, they
include the method of reading instruction in most schools: whole language, the
"progressive" method, which focuses on what words look like, instead of showing
kids how letters come together into words and words come together into
sentences under certain linguistic rules, which is the traditional method of
intensive, explicit, systematic phonics. Whole language handicaps kids to the
point where grade-level reading by the late primary grades is too "hard" or
"boring" for them - because there aren't any more pictures to "read."
kindergartners and first-graders are being taught reading skills the way 3- and
4-year-olds used to be taught a generation ago. One reading expert called it
"like pulling the wings off a butterfly," the way language instruction has been
dumbed down in recent years. When primary teachers let kids "read" books by
looking at the pictures, put "word walls" of index cards up on the walls for
them to memorize, and allow them to slough off mispronunciations and
misspellings, they are contributing to illiteracy and disdain for written
language, whether they know it or not.
question is, what are the consequences for the majority of students, who are no
longer reading very much? How are their brains different from students who read
Knowledge base. A person picks up knowledge by
listening to others and watching TV, of course, but there's no way you can
obtain anything above bare-bones knowledge without reading on a regular basis.
Vocabulary: the typical TV vocabulary contains
just a minute fraction of the three-quarters of a million words in the English
language. So yes, TV watching really does stunt your growth. If you don't read
very much, you'll never know the vast majority of the words that can help you
make your ideas clearly understood. For that matter, your ideas themselves
won't be clear, even to you. You will become indifferent to the importance of
precision in words, incapable of understanding or expressing opinions about
complex events, and incompetent of holding any job that requires intellectual
Comprehension: one of the best gifts of reading
is that it helps build the brain's architecture so that you can create mental
images just from looking at words, and those images are entirely your own
invention. Understanding and imagination both spring from the process of
reading. In contrast, when you look at an image, you are stuck with that image,
and with the implications of it, instead of being free to absorb the input and
create your own impression or memory of it, as you do with reading written
Concentration: they call the mind that has been
reared mostly on video and audio instead of text "the two-minute mind." Kids
who haven't attained the mental organization that comes from reading are not
trained to buckle down and stick with a sustained chain of thought. They get
distracted, just like the scenes change constantly in TV. No wonder there's an
attention deficit problem in our society.
Synthesis: without reading books with lots of
content, characters, settings and situations, it becomes difficult for a young
person to learn about things in the "real" world and boil them down to a main
idea. You can't draw inferences if you have no basis of comparison. TV watching
is passive, while reading is active. TV watching is being entertained, while
reading requires thinking.
Expression: a poor and inexperienced reader
will read aloud in a monotone, indicating that the sense of the text is not
getting through, and hampering communication since no one wants to listen.
excellent, though scary, book about this is Endangered
Minds: Why Children Don't Think - and What We Can Do About It, by Jane M.