The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece on June 26, called the Young and the Bookless about how young people are not reading for pleasure. The author referred to a 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts that found nearly half of Americans age 18-24 have never read a book for pleasure.
The piece reminded me of a concern I expressed to my son’s fourth grade teacher a few months ago – my ten year old does not read for pleasure.
I sometimes wonder if he has so much homework each night that he has little time, energy or brain capacity to read good books that will ignite his emotions or imagination.
The teacher said not to worry. The class was reading so much at school that there was no need to read more at home. And my son, apparently, seemed engaged with what they were reading.
While relieved by our conversation, I still felt uncomfortable. My fear was that he was not experiencing the joy of reading. Every time I bought a new book or suggested he read one of the many stories on his bookshelf, he would roll his eyes at me, “all you ever want me to do is work, work, work!”
But reading is not work!
It sounds like half a generation is doing the same, and it certainly is not news. The study quoted has been around since my ten year old was four. The question that still seems unanswered is why.
Is it that most kids have too much homework these days and too many after-school activities to make the time to read?
Is it that too many of our young people have poor reading skills, so struggling through a book loses its appeal?
Is it that their video game culture is so fast-paced that the slow pace of a good read is not stimulating enough for them?
Is it that their parents do not read much either? They have no reading role models?
Is it that the books assigned in school – many that I read in school more than 30 years ago – actually do not have eternal appeal? And this generation needs updated required reading lists that spark their creativity more than the old ones do, in order to get them to read beyond the list?
Is it that school libraries have too many poorly written books based on television shows, and younger children initially drawn to the bright colors and familiar characters get nothing inspiring or thought-provoking out of them? So they cease to be interested as the grow up?
Is it that too many homes have no books on the shelves? I remember walking into a house back in 1989, and the first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a book or newspaper to be found. It was shocking. I wonder if my kids would even notice it?
The point of a study is not the numbers it highlights, but the story behind the numbers. With my fourth grader, I waited until the homework slowed at the end of the school year and brought home a pile of books – fiction and non-fiction – based on what he likes to talk about.
He read the entire Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan in a matter of a few weeks. Phew. It was the homework and overload of extra-curricular activities. Rick Riordan was my new hero.
Then the reading stalled again in the lazy days of summer. The eye-rolls picked up.
As a parent who finds great pleasure in a good book, I do not really care about the numbers. I just want to know why, so I can do something about it.