I’ve still got a childhood copy of Tom Sawyer that I was given as a gift when I was in elementary school. It’s a treasured reminder of how much reading was a part of my life and continues to be.
On his return from a business trip, my father once brought me a book about snakes. I devoured that book, as I did a book called Old Yeller which I bought at a school book drive. I loved book drives because I could get a lot of titles cheaply. Books were like intellectual crack that tickled my curiosity as well as providing hours of entertainment.
In those days there was no competition from other media forms. Even
television was pretty “primitive,” and most of us only had really small black and white models. TV went “off the air” at 10 pm, and cable didn’t exist until many years later. Entertainment options for kid were pretty basic: climb a tree, play with friends, build a fort, imagine an expedition, or read.
Although we would probably all agree that media, in its various forms today, has brought many benefits, it has also caused a media dependency that has spoiled the love that a kid can get from curling up with Tom Sawyer or Old Yeller and being suspensed by a good story.
Reading today is in crisis. In an every-10-years survey that the National Endowment for the Arts conducts, it has been found that reading has declined among every group of adult Americans. Dana Gioia, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, reports that in some cases the decline has been PRECIPITOUS. Younger American adults have gone from being the people who read the most to the people who read the least.
Reading proficiency has fallen in the group aged 18-34. It has fallen the worst among men. For he first time in American history, less than half of the U.S. adult population is reading literature.
The loss of reading as a common activity comes with serious side effects, and the thought of a society that does not read is frightening to an extreme degree. In the next installment of this blog, the results of not reading will be explored.