The Nonreading Public

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about the NEA's new report on American reading habits. (It's a subscriber only article, sorry. I'll try to summarize).

The results are fairly dire. Only 35 percent of high school seniors were reading at or above proficiency levels in 2005. That's down from 40 percent from 1992.

The study looks at how much people are reading voluntarily -- and that's reading books, magazines, blogs, etc. From The Chronicle article:

In 2006, the study found, 15-to-24-year-olds spent just seven minutes on voluntary reading on weekdays— 10 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. They found time to watch two to two-and-a-half hours of television daily.

Older and presumably wiser— or at least more bookish— generations didn't do much better. In 2006 people ages 35 to 44 devoted only 12 minutes a day to reading. Even the best-read group, Americans 65 and older, logged less than an hour each weekday and just over an hour on weekends.

And this isn't just about lamenting that people aren't reading:
The report confirms that poor readers tend to make poor students, who become poorly paid workers. Twenty percent of American workers don't read at the level required by their jobs.

That part's not good at all.

No single culprit exists for the lack of reading:
The study does not dwell on what's to blame, but it makes ominous references to multitasking and to "the omnipresence of electronic media."

So, that's right. Turn off your blackberry and television ('cause you can't really focus on both of them at the same time, despite what you think) and read something -- anything. The study suggests that people who are readers are more active as citizens, go to museums more frequently, and excerise more (and are better at sports!)

It's not all gloom and doom, but the study does show that we need to continue to emphasize with our students the importance of reading in their lives. So, seriously, kids. I'm making you read that poem for a reason. It's going to make you a better person -- I promise.

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