Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chapter 2: The New Bibliophobes

            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?


  1. Again, I really wish this author didn't have such a negative outlook on young people and theirs and our futures! Every generation will look at things differently and use what is in their world. Right now and forever upgrading I'm sure, it is technology! Parents and teachers still need to raise "the person". Sure, technology should be used to benefit ourselves, but not to control or take over anything. Kids are reading, but are doing it differently these days, whether it is with an E-Book or on the internet. The child that is raised responsibly will be a contributor to society, do well in school, and use technology to make the world a better place. Not everyone that is under 30 that doesn't like to read is irresponsible. Test scores aren't everything!

  2. I copied and pasted this from the comment I made earlier---
    It seems in this chapter that the author is trying to convince us that people, especially 15-24 year olds, don't read. I got the impression it was they didn't like to read what was assigned. But that is "old" stuff. Why not work with current "new release" books for young adults? An 8th grade teacher in our area did that and the kids were excited to read them.
    Thought 2--Some people just don't like to read. They can and are very capable, but they don't like to spend their leisure time reading. Maybe people are too active and spend their leisure time doing more active things. Is their really anything "wrong" with that?

  3. My thoughts are this author is just as dumb as he makes the "dumbest generation" look. For one, what is wrong with reading it on a computer versus a book? If the book is on the computer, it is still be reading. Yes or no? Students have this disregard for reading, but I do not blame them. Unfortunately, they have been raised to ignore books. Parents have not taken on the responsibility or raising their kids on books. The students do not see their parents read. It is so important for students to be exposed to books at a young age. This is when the love of reading is developed. My 3 year old son loves to read, but I have shown him different books. I key into his interest when choosing books. He sees me reading. Therefore, we spend a lot of time every night reading books over and over. He would rather read instead of sit in front of a screen. It is a matter of parents, daycare providers, and teachers in the primary grades to instill that love of reading. You need all adults in a child's life to help develop loving to read.
    My second thought is centered around the remedial classes and students not being prepared for college. Research says students learn differently than the traditional approach of reading a section and answering typical 5Ws questions. Students learn from developing high order thinking skills and with each other. Unfortunately, teachers do not take this into account. I can't even count the number of teachers in high school that taught the traditional way. What do I remember about those history, english, psychology, etc. classes? Absolutely nothing. All it took to pass the class was suck the information in and puke it out on the test. Immediately following the test, the information is lost. I entered college and it was a shock the size of 7.0 magnitude earthquake. I did not have the high order thinking skills necessary to succeed in college. It took a lot of work on my end to succeed in college. Also, in the primary grades we teach the children to read. In the upper grades the teachers are supposed to teach how to read to learn. This does not happen either. Students are supposed to "just know" how to read a text book, Shakespeare, or "The Great Gatsby." Guess what? Students don't "just know." It takes a teacher showing students how to pick information out of a textbook or decode and make sense of Shakespeare. I loved Shakespeare after I learned how to read and decode the language. It was all due to my wonderful AP English 11/12 teacher, Mrs. Batchelder.

  4. There is no doubt that reading is becoming a lost art and that a screen is more enticing than a library book. But I agree with Tasha. These kids parents are to blame. Right now my son LOVES to read. He cannot get enough, but he easily gets sucked into screen time. It is my job to limit his screen time and to allow him time to lose himself in his books.