We Read What?

March 4, 2010
We Read What?
What do you do when you get home from school? Homework? Video games? Read? According to a November 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, “less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.” In other words, lots of teens spend more time watching TV than reading for fun. Teenagers don’t read as frequently as they should.
According to CBS, the decline of reading is mostly caused by “television, movies and the Internet.” The article also says that, according to Dana Gioia, the chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, “I think what we're seeing is an enormous cultural shift from print media to electronic media, and the unintended consequences of that shift” If books are made into movies, then it’s easier to sit in front of a movie screen for a few hours than to find a book, and sit down and read it. Movies like this include “Twilight,” (Meyer, ’05) “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” (Rowling, ’97) “The Fellowship of the Ring,” (Tolkien, ’54) and many, many more. I have personally found that the books are more detailed and active than the movie, and can be longer. There is not a limit on how long a book can be, whilst movies usually have to fit into 120 minutes. Take “Gone with the Wind,” (Mitchell, ’36), which was so long that when it was made into a movie in 1939, they were forced to split it into two parts. Combined, the running time is 238 minutes. Or you can read the more detailed book, which is originally 1037 pages.
I feel that what happens in the classroom with literature is unacceptable for any piece of less advanced material. It is the job of the teacher to have their students read in the classroom and at home, which is fine. However, I don’t feel that the teachers emphasize this enough. Some of the best reading tactics are learned at school. These tactics involve strangling books and making students hate reading. While there are some exceptions, I believe that books read in school with worksheets and all those “tools” literally squeeze the juicy goodness of young adult literature out until there’s nothing left. A model of this is “The Lightning Thief” (Riordan, ’05), where most seventh graders are forced analyze it to death by their teachers! I think that if they [the seventh graders] actually got to read it without all the papers, free reading for the next four books in the series would increase because more students enjoyed the first book. These analyzing papers help with more difficult literature that teens are less likely to read on their spare time. For instance, Shakespeare novels are even difficult for adults, but for these easier reads comprehension should be more enjoyable. From past experiences, I know that some students read ahead on “The Lightning Thief.” Those “naughty” ones usually take the time to finish the series. If you don’t listen to the teachers, there’s a chance that you’ll end up reading more- when it comes to lit circles. It never hurts to be ahead!
The consequences of anti-literacy in youth are severe. While technology is changing rapidly, the teens are keeping up with the latest trends of the internet. There, they can find information and fast ways to chat with their friends on Instant Messaging. That’s not good, though. According to the survey mentioned earlier conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, it was found that “nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension ‘very important’ for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill. American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others. Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities – such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.” Maybe reading could help fight childhood obesity, or help our crumbling economy. If you don’t read a lot, but want to retire at 32, you may want to look into reading more before you show up at those job reviews.
When was the last time you read a good book? Visit your local library, join your school’s Best Books for Young Adults (if you have one at your school), or visit teenreads.com to find some of the most popular good books. Choose to get that perfect score on the ACT reading portion or define ‘couch potato’ watching television.

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