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.