In 2004, while Mark Bauerlein worked for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), he did an interview with NPR that centered on a discussion about the significant drop in leisure reading, especially among 18-24 year olds. The radio interview was one amid many different types of media interviews and reports that followed a NEA report entitled “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America”. Bauerlein reports that during the radio interview, he was “startled” by the reaction of the radio-listening audience. He summarizes after recalling the conversation he had with one high school student “she didn’t like to read, period, and she wanted to tell us that, throwing our assumption that every young person should read books right back in our faces”. He states that this “new attitude” of flaunting “a-literacy (knowing how to read, but choosing not to)” and “anti-intellectualism” is peculiar to the millennial generation. Bauerlein gives another example – this time a college panelist relates how his “dad is still into the whole book thing” and that he goes to the library only to retrieve course information, but never to check out leisure books. He has not realized that the Internet kind of took the place of that”.
Among my students, I do see youth with both of these aforementioned attitudes. However, I also know youth that love to read. I have several students that choose to read their leisure books (checked out from the school library) during free time in class. Still, we don’t have computers in our classroom. Given a choice – would they choose the Internet over their book?
This also makes me think of the different attitudes of a niece and two nephews (in the same family). The oldest who is almost 18 years old loved to read Harry Potter books and also other books in that genre a couple of years ago. Now he spends less time reading, and more time on his smart phone texting. He reads well, but his writing is terrible and he wants to be an engineer! I wonder- does his texting (shorthand) have something to do with his writing skills? His brother is 16 and has always hated to read. He would rather spend all his time playing video games - mostly in the subject of shooting (hunting animals). Their sister, who is 14, loves to read books, especially in the popular romantic-vampire series. So here is an example of 'same family- different interests'.
Bauerlein goes on to describe numerous observations that suggest that events such as the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, are more about the social event than a reading trend. In other words, the mind-boggling sales of such books are a result of “special social meaning” or “youth identity”, rather than purely in the interest of reading because it was something they were interested in themselves.
Pages forty-five to sixty-three are mostly filled with information on surveys, statistics and reports with a somewhat common dismal conclusion – a staggering number of “students are not learning the basic skills needed to succeed in college or work while they are in high school”. They end up needing “remedial coursework and advising before they can even start college-level instruction” and this ends up costing tax payers a bundle. Then on page sixty-five the discussion switches to a different view – “a newfangled cognition and knowledge.” This opinion states that although they don’t read books “well, they read other things” and while they “don’t know any history” from books – “they know other kinds”. Some proponents of this generation point to a “quicker attention span”, and better ability to “multi-task”. Bauerlein however, is quick to point out though that many of these proponents are actually the “20-something” “practitioners themselves”. He gives an example where a young blogger says:
“What smart person would devote hours to learning words that can be accessed at the click of a button? Spell check can spell. Shift+F7 produces synonyms. What is wrong with relying on something that is perfectly reliable? (Andrukonis)”.
My thought here is: Yes, but what about the countless times I have had students who fail to even remember to use Spell Check?
The chapter concludes that after all the arguments about learning in the digital age, there is still the question: While students have so many more conveniences and quick information, available to them, why then are their reading scores, and science, culture and civic knowledge still suffering?