Who Is a Reader Anyway? Of Interest to All of Us–

This is the gist of an article that appears in the TIMES today. Do take a look. KES

Harry Potter, James Patterson and Oprah Winfrey’s book club
aside, Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading
less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are
declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like
math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited,
and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.

That is the message of a new report being released today by the
National Endowment for the Arts, based on an analysis of data from about two
dozen studies from the federal Education and Labor Departments and the
Census Bureau as well as other academic, foundation and business
surveys. After its 2004 report, “Reading at Risk,” which found that
fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or
poetry, the endowment sought to collect more comprehensive data to build
a picture of the role of all reading, including nonfiction.



Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “Who Is a Reader Anyway? Of Interest to All of Us–

  1. jmdegan

    Why are students not learning what we think of as being literate behaviors?

    Dr. Stearns, wouldn’t you argue, considering many of the people who don’t read “novels, short stories, plays or poetry” are likely to be “reading” video games and multimedia texts, are more literate than this study would indicate?

    I guess the question is, do we or do we not value aesthetic texts for their aesthetic value? Is that a worthy value to pass on? If it is, then how?

    How do you teach students to read for pleasure? Maybe everyone is right and all we need to do is meet kids where they are, support their choices as readers, and encourage other opportunities to expand those choices.

    Or maybe we shouldn’t be content to just meet kids where they are. Maybe we need to teach students to encounter aesthetic texts like poetry or the novel more meaningfully.

    As many of you know, I am weary of the argument that we don’t engage students when we force the “great works” on them. I would emphatically disagree with Dr. Stearns when she wrinkles her nose at THE CRUCIBLE or OF MICE AND MEN. I feel like a broken record, but I also hear this constant complaint about the kind of literature that’s being taught in schools.

    The pedagogy behind these teaching strategies is failing.

    Look at the way most teachers teach poetry: it’s arcane; it’s difficult to access; it’s value is closely tied with it’s formal characteristics. Why do kids hate reading poetry? Because it’s given to them as a kind of specialized knowledge, and one they don’t have access to. Because it’s given to them as a difficult kind of writing that must be “interpreted” in order to have value.

    Kids hate poetry because they are taught to decode it; not to appreciate it.

    And then we encourage students to indulge in “self-expression” in all of its excess, then ask them to put it in verse. Of course, because their spirit cannot be constrained, they utilize free-verse (although they can barely grasp the discipline of that form).

    Of course, in 506, we had a discussion about why it would be better for English teachers to have to take fewer classes on literature. Presumably, we’re better teachers if we’re pedagogical specialists, rather than specialists within our discipline.

    After all, why do we need to have a deep, sophisticated understanding of the major literary works of our language (what some believe they trivialize as “literary history”)? Is it this kind of anti-intellectualism that may be the source of this growing problem of non-literacy (a choice, as opposed to illiteracy, a lack of skill)?

    If I sound harsh, then it is because I mean this harshly. We do need to wake up; but that doesn’t mean we need less “classic” literature in our classrooms.

    I know that this is considered a conservative view about literacy. But I see us falling into the trap many advocates of critical literacy fall into: the “understanding” that aesthetic texts do not fit well with a socially just platform of literacy education. I disagree. Aesthetic texts demand answers from their readers that they (the readers) are reluctant to give, or allowed to be asked. They don’t give us easy, or, at least, safe, answers the way that reading a set of advertisements (as capitalist power structures) can.

    I suggest that we’re giving up by saying that kids can’t be interested in Shakespeare; that they can’t be interested in poetry; that they can’t be interested in Hawthorne or Woolf. Maybe students wouldn’t choose these texts; most students wouldn’t choose to study genetics or algebra either. That’s why we’re TEACHERS, not trail-guides (trail-guides are important, too). We shouldn’t be content to meet students where they are. We teach a discipline that is enormous, one that can (and, in most of the classrooms I think we see, fails to) capture a student’s imagination and change the way they see themselves and their world.

    Or maybe the reason why fewer than half of Americans over 18 read aesthetic texts is because they’re working their rear end off in a career that isn’t as conducive to intellectual inquiry as ours. Maybe they’re trying to keep their job from being outsourced to India. Maybe the firm they work for demands that they be accessible 24/7 because we live in a flat world where the sun never sets on the multi-national corporation (empire).

    Maybe we persist as the last of a dying breed: the liberally educated, well-rounded intellectual. If we are even that.

    J. Degan

  2. sunyprof

    Jerry, here’s ED WEEK‘s take on the same NEA report. A little bit of a different spin.

    You know I think we expect too little, not too much, from students. And that our range of vision as to what middle/high school students should read in school is too limited and too narrow.

    The problem is not OF MICE AND MEN (I’m sorry poor JS gets my bad rap so often.) or any other of the short list of titles students generally read in ELA classrooms. The problem as I see it is the failure to provide more challenge, more variety, more contemporary and more classic texts, short and long, that might engage students where they live as well as lead to engaging them where we want them to set up new domiciles.

    I have spent my whole career, and at considerable cost to myself, because I have not been content to “meet students where they are–and leave them there. Trail guide for sure. My students were expected to ready at least 25 full length books in any school year–and most did it. These selections ranged over philosophy, theology, history, the social and natural sciences, belletristic literature (of course), etc. etc.

    I don’t know any critical educator who would agree that the classics don’t fit into a social justice framework for teaching. Just the opposite in fact.

    Because I want to expand our notion of texts and textuality, doesn’t mean that I would ever consider replacing reading an advertisement for reading THE GRAPES OF WRATH, the Steinbeck novel I think kids should read in school. My position is that we must do both–not one or the other.

    I know you take the position that it’s not the titles we choose that turns kids off but rather the way we teach those titles. I wonder what you are thinking about Leila Christenbury’s experiences with “honors” kids in Trailer 11. Do post. KES

  3. allison

    Dear Readers,
    I would like to take this opportunity to blame Xbox, Play Station 2 and 3, Nintendo Wii, AOL Instant Messenger, itunes, and every other technological OBSESSION of high school students. I believe these distractions are the reasons that students are not reading today. Even blogs. Who has the time to read when all of these distractions are hanging around? These things didn’t exist ten years ago- and ten years ago everyone read more books. A coincidence? I think not!!

    Thank you for sharing this article with us, Professor Stearns. Sadly, I do not think that we can totally reclaim the attention of our students from these technologies. It also seems that students are more interested in hanging with friends than reading. My attempts at starting a reading zone at the Y have fizzled, despite the initial interest from the students. Even if students show enthusiasm for reading, it seems that reading constantly sinks to a low priority.

  4. sunyprof

    Allison, you are right of course. Kids today do have more options for engaging with a variety of texts (yes, texts!) than they did even 10 years ago.

    But what I think we must acknowledge is that the culture is shifting significantly and the texts our kids are reading will define their generations’ workplaces, intellectual lives and projects and society’s world view. That’s already happening.

    I am sad to hear that your Y kids aren’t getting on board as readers. That’s something we should talk more about. You have your own laboratory there–to observe and interact with adolescents in an out-of-school setting. Seems a wonderful opportunity–and one I know you have been taking advantage of–to conduct some informal action research that will inform your classroom practice.

    What has hooked them? Have any had success with the “club” you have tried to put in place? What are you learning from the experience about how you will set up your classroom?

    As usual, I’m full of questions!!

    An intersting development that goes along w/you post….do take a look at KINDLE, the latest in book technology. Newsweek featured it as its cover story this week. You might want to read what one of our tech-savvy grad students says about KINDLE on his blog. KES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s