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To Read or Not to Read


“To Read or Not to Read” that is the question, and the title of the National Endowment of the Arts analysis of the reading patterns of Americans. Released last week, the NEA report compiled data from federal agencies and educational institutions in an effort to explain the role of reading in the lives of American children, teenagers, and adults.

The findings of the report indicate that reading for pleasure is on the decline among Americans of all ages with the exception of elementary school children. As students move through the educational system, they read less. Americans 15-24 years old spend as little as 7-10 minutes per day reading for enjoyment. Compare this to the 2 hours or more per day they spend watching television. As a result, reading ability declines as students get older, reinforcing the evidence that the more you read the better you get at it. Students who are poor readers do not do well in school and are less employable as adults. Bottom line, if you are not a competent reader, your ability to earn a living and participate fully in society is hindered.

Did you know when you held a child on your lap to read a bedtime story or gathered your students together to read that you were saving America? I did not know when I became a teacher what a political and social issue teaching reading was. With NCLB and reports like those from the NEA, I know it now.

The NEA report outlines many factors that have contributed to the decline in reading among our citizens including TV watching, the rise of the Internet, and the decline in book purchasing. The debate over how to teach reading is not new, and the NEA report is simply more evidence for what we should already know. What I do know is that teachers will be asked to fix it, no matter what families and society should be doing to foster a love of reading- it will fall to us. That is our job, isn’t it? We do not teach because it is easy; we teach because it matters.

We cannot control the world of the Internet (although many school districts try!), we cannot control the lack of student preparedness or home support for reading, and we cannot control the federal and state mandates for testing. What we can control is what happens in our classrooms. We are literate adults guiding and role modeling for children who are developing their literacy skills and attitudes towards reading. This is our true mandate.


I would love to watch you inspire my 7th and 8th grade low-achievers begin to love reading! I am doing my best through modeling, sharing interesting things that can only be found through the printed words, and encouraging use of the library. So manyother things in their lives come first, and reading takes time. Our society has become one that is driven by time and the clock...crimes are solved within 60 minutes, games are played with systems that allow you to learn "cheat codes" to win more quickly, and the microwave rules supreme in our kitchens! Not many young people see the value of cherishing books or learning to love reading. I try to begin with what they know and like already, even if it may be a sports or gaming magazine or the police report in the local paper (to see if anyone they know was arrested...). I think that will be the best way to show them that yes, contrary to what they say, they DO read, and reading holds the key to so many other wonderful things. How much would we miss if we could not translate those little squiggles and lines on a flat surface into something like a love note or a job offer or an inspiring story??

I agree that this is a very important issue. One that I discovered as a homeschool teacher and volunteer library worker. One thing that can be done is to provide inspiring lists of books for the children and encourage them to read a book here and there (or read parts with them). It is often done at the high school level, but many kids have already decided they aren't readers by then and are struggling to do schoolwork. The love of reading has to start sooner before they are bogged down with homework. And if you can't get the kids to pick from the list, give the list to the parents. Some of them do actually care. They just don't feel they have the time or knowledge to pick out good books.
It is astounding how many parents (even teachers themselves) expect the students' teachers to provide incentive. It's too important to leave to someone else. I pick books for my kids. They don't read everything I pick out, but they read some things they never would have gotten themselves. And I have learned so much in the bargain.
I started a book review site to help parents and students find books. I drop bookmarks at the library and have made some bookmark lists also. Even if it can help teachers with ideas (and cut their research time) that's great.

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Recent Comments

  • minerva66: I agree that this is a very important issue. One read more
  • Martha Ray: I would love to watch you inspire my 7th and read more



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