Monday, November 19, 2007

Young Americans Reading Less

This seems like at least an annual event -- a study showing that Americans -- particularly the up and coming generation -- aren't reading. Today the National Endowment for the Arts released a meta-study examining data from the U.S. Department of Education and other sources finding that leisure reading is declining, especially among late-teens and twenty somethings. The guts from WaPo:

    The NEA reports that in 2006, 15-to-24-year-olds spent just 7 to 10 minutes a day voluntarily reading anything at all.
Bad, but here's what's really disturbing:
    It also notes that between 1992 and 2003, the percentage of college graduates who tested as "proficient in reading prose" declined from 40 percent to 31 percent.

Here's how it's happening:
    The percentage of 9-year-olds who say they "read almost every day for fun," the NEA report notes, rose slightly, from 53 percent to 54 percent, between 1984 and 2004. During roughly the same time period, average reading scores for 9-year-olds rose sharply. But the percentage of 17-year-olds reading almost every day for fun dropped from 31 percent in 1984 to 22 percent in 2004, with average reading scores showing steady declines.

That, by the way, tracks school proficiency data generally. American kids are generally doing well in K-5, then start to lose their way in middle school and lag behind peers in other countries in high school. And why is this happening? We can't say definitively it is the obvious culprit, but:
    Iyengar emphasized that the NEA's data can show correlations but cannot prove a causal relationship between reading decline and, say, the proliferation of electronic media.
The other obvious discussion point is -- what of the internet? The NEA has been criticized in the past for not acknowledging online reading. Two problems this go round. First, the decline in reading proficiency is a problem no matter what the platform.

Second, electronic communications in the late 2.0 era are less conducive to practicing reading -- and writing for that matter. This Slate story confirms what I've been noticing; that kids are not surfing and emailing so much as IM'ing, chatting and texting. The latter are basically electronic versions of verbal conversation, not actual writing and reading of what anyone would call prose. A couple friends of mine teach remedial writing to college students. They have found it necessary to teach their students that it is not acceptable to spell "you" as "u." OMG its FUBAR. Thz kds CUS.

BTW, I don't remember who to h/t -- Publisher's MarketPlace dropped it in their Lunch email, as has area blogger Keith who suggests the solution is more David Drake. At least one other non-primary source referenced it. I tip my hat to you all.