Monday, October 20, 2008

How Are They Getting Their Story Fix?

Once they're in high school, most teens stop reading for fun, says a Chicago Tribune article about the challenges faced by English teachers:
The percent of 17-year-olds who do not read for pleasure has doubled in the past 20 years, according to a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Just 43 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they read literature in 2002, continuing a decline that began two decades earlier.

"We're talking [about reading] a play, short story, novel or poem in the last 12 months. . . . It's a low bar. We're not even saying you had to complete the book," said Sunil Iyengar, the group's director of research and analysis.
Another article from across the Atlantic presents a theory about why teens aren't reading. They're getting dumber, according to The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future by Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein:
(Bauerlein) draws a depressingly consistent causal relationship between the rise of digital literacy and the decline of cultural literacy. The more skilled kids become in using the tools of the digital revolution, he demonstrates, the more ignorant they become about the objective world around them. The informational abundance of the Web 2.0 age, according to Bauerlein, is creating a famine of intelligence. And so the most tangible fruit of the digital revolution is the "dumbest generation," a term Bauerlein borrows from Philip Roth's The Human Stain, a dark novel about the collapse of educational standards in a digitally infatuated America.
I disagree, believing that our shared intelligence is shifting instead of diminishing, but are there other reasons older teens don't read novels?

Here's one: they're filling the universal human hunger for story through films and video games instead of books. Here's another, inspired by Andrew Sullivan's piece "Why I Blog" in the November issue of Atlantic Monthly (thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for the link): young adults prefer the authenticity, relevancy, and participatory nature of intellectual content on the web.

2 comments:

beckylevine said...

I don't QUITE have a teen yet, but I talk to other moms with kids a bit older than me. Part of this may be the load of work kids get in high school--it may go back to the reading for school versus reading for pleasure. Not sure, but a possibility?

We at our house are all book addicts, so I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that my son doesn't go down this path. Fingers crossed.

Dani in NC said...

I can say most definitely that the workload from school makes a difference as to whether kids read for pleasure. In my 15-year-old daughter's case, the worst years were 6th through 8th grade. Not only did she have assigned reading from classes other than English, but she also participated in Battle of the Books and had required summer reading. This year, in 10th grade, they are reading fewer books but discussing them in more depth. This has freed her to read books of her own choosing, and you should see the length of the list she gave me last week!