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Why Johnny Won't Read (WashingtonPost article)

Old 01-25-05, 11:18 AM
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Why Johnny Won't Read (WashingtonPost article)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2005Jan24.html
Why Johnny Won't Read

By Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A15

When the National Endowment for the Arts last summer released "Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America," journalists and commentators were quick to seize on the findings as a troubling index of the state of literary culture. The survey showed a serious decline in both literary reading and book reading in general by adults of all ages, races, incomes, education levels and regions.

But in all the discussion, one of the more worrisome trends went largely unnoticed. From 1992 to 2002, the gender gap in reading by young adults widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women slipped from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men plummeted from 55 percent to 43 percent.

Placed in historical perspective, these findings fit with a gap that has existed in the United States since the spread of mass publishing in the mid-19th century. But for the gap to have grown so much in so short a time suggests that what was formerly a moderate difference is fast becoming a decided marker of gender identity: Girls read; boys don't.

The significance of the gender gap is echoed in two other recent studies. In September the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the "American Time Use Survey," a report on how Americans spend their hours, including work, school, sleep and leisure. The survey found that in their leisure time young men and women both read only eight minutes per day. But the equality is misleading, because young men enjoy a full 56 minutes more leisure than young women -- approximately six hours for men and five for women.

The other report, "Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women: 2004," is from the Education Department. Between 1992 and 2002, among high school seniors, girls lost two points in reading scores and boys six points, leaving a 16-point differential in their averages on tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In the fall semester of kindergarten in 1998, on a different test, girls outperformed boys by 0.9 points. By the spring semester, the difference had nearly doubled, to 1.6 points.

Although one might expect the schools to be trying hard to make reading appealing to boys, the K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. It has long been known that there are strong differences between boys and girls in their literary preferences. According to reading interest surveys, both boys and girls are unlikely to choose books based on an "issues" approach, and children are not interested in reading about ways to reform society -- or themselves. But boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys.

Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.

At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying. Older literary fare has also been replaced by something called "culturally relevant" literature -- texts that appeal to students' ethnic group identification on the assumption that sharing the leading character's ethnicity will motivate them to read.

There is no evidence whatsoever that either of these types of reading fare has turned boys into lifelong readers or learners. On the contrary, the evidence is accumulating that by the time they go on to high school, boys have lost their interest in reading about the fictional lives, thoughts and feelings of mature individuals in works written in high-quality prose, and they are no longer motivated by an exciting plot to persist in the struggle they will have with the vocabulary that goes with it.

Last year the National Assessment Governing Board approved a special study of gender differences in reading as part of its research agenda over the next five years. The study will examine how differences in theme, the leading character's gender, and genre, among other factors, bear upon the relative reading performance of boys and girls. With its focus on the content of reading rather than process, this study will, one hopes, give us some ideas on what needs to be done to get boys reading again.
Interesting article. So, gone are male role models and along with it are boys' readership. Makes sense to me.
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Old 01-25-05, 11:53 AM
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My son had a hard time getting started on reading. I ended up just getting him all the books I liked in Elementary School and that got him going. He still reads the occasional Goosebump book, but overall he has a pretty good library for a 10 year old. He really loved Elmore Leonard's book about the coyote.

I encourage and reward his reading (with more books) and that has seemed to work. I agree though reading seems a lost form or recreation with TV and Video Games so popular.
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Old 02-04-05, 05:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Geofferson
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2005Jan24.html
Although one might expect the schools to be trying hard to make reading appealing to boys, the K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. It has long been known that there are strong differences between boys and girls in their literary preferences. According to reading interest surveys, both boys and girls are unlikely to choose books based on an "issues" approach, and children are not interested in reading about ways to reform society -- or themselves. But boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys.
I've been saying this for ages. Part of the reason that kids are losing interest in reading is because of WHAT they are reading.

I remember when I was in high school I had all these so called "classics" rammed down our throats and they were absolutely abyssmal!! The worst offender was "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton but everything was so tedious and boring. I didn't NOT read though. I read comics all through high school. But even when my teachers found out that I had an interest in adventure and "fantasy" none of them ever said "you know if you like that maybe you should try reading...". It was always more of the same. Seemed like they were brainwashed into thinking "...more Dickens, more Shakespeare, more Arthur Miller. You can't learn if it's enjoyable!".

I have to say though if it wasn't bored sensless by my "required reading" I would have never discovered comics or anime.
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Old 02-04-05, 06:29 PM
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I am an avid reader but it has nothing to do with reading typical "classics" in school.

I ready mostly Dr.Seuss and Shel Silverstein stuff when I was just learning how to read. I had a teacher in elementary who thought I'd like the Narnia books, which was my introduction to fantasy. I also read a lot of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (yeah, that's right...Nancy Drew ). When I got to middle school, I read everything Stephen King had written to that point. And it just snowballed from there.

My point is that I've read very few of the typical "classics" and I think I turned out just fine.
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Old 02-04-05, 09:00 PM
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No offense, but reading comic books isn't reading as it's meant in this sense. Not that you shouldn't do it if you enjoy it. But it's hardly the same thing.
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Old 02-04-05, 10:36 PM
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Originally Posted by djmont
No offense, but reading comic books isn't reading as it's meant in this sense. Not that you shouldn't do it if you enjoy it. But it's hardly the same thing.
My point was that even though my teachers had known I was into comics NOT ONE of them ever recomended something along those lines from the "literary" world. They were so tied to the so-called classics and the required curriculum that they couldn't think outside the box and turn me on to something that I might find enjoyable. Nobody ever said "if you like this adventure stuff there's this guy named Tolkien that you'd probably enjoy".
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Old 02-05-05, 06:10 AM
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Originally Posted by djmont
No offense, but reading comic books isn't reading as it's meant in this sense. Not that you shouldn't do it if you enjoy it. But it's hardly the same thing.

Yeah but comic books are also a great introduction to reading for many. I had a teacher who had learning disabilites when he was younger. He said that Comic books helped him get into reading because they where written a way that made it easier to learn. They helped him appreciate reading.

Last edited by Giantrobo; 02-05-05 at 06:18 AM.
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Old 02-05-05, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Captain Harlock
I've been saying this for ages. Part of the reason that kids are losing interest in reading is because of WHAT they are reading.

I remember when I was in high school I had all these so called "classics" rammed down our throats and they were absolutely abyssmal!! The worst offender was "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton but everything was so tedious and boring. I didn't NOT read though. I read comics all through high school. But even when my teachers found out that I had an interest in adventure and "fantasy" none of them ever said "you know if you like that maybe you should try reading...". It was always more of the same. Seemed like they were brainwashed into thinking "...more Dickens, more Shakespeare, more Arthur Miller. You can't learn if it's enjoyable!".

I have to say though if it wasn't bored sensless by my "required reading" I would have never discovered comics or anime.
I know that the point you're trying to make is that high school teachers need to have a more open mind about what is and isn't worthwhile to read. I think the argument is spurious, because teachers have to teach within constraints set by outside entities (state ed. boards, etc.). Most teachers probably don't read (or enjoy) Anna Karenina outside of school, but have an appreciation for it. They try to teach that appreciation. My teachers generally encouraged any sort of outside reading.

But you, my friend, must also keep an open mind. I think most anime is absolute garbage, and actually enjoy reading Dickens and Arthur Miller. After the Fall will blow your hair back, buddy.

cheers,

-the Jesus
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Old 02-05-05, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by cupcake jesus

But you, my friend, must also keep an open mind. I think most anime is absolute garbage, and actually enjoy reading Dickens and Arthur Miller. After the Fall will blow your hair back, buddy.

cheers,

-the Jesus
I tried reading Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman and All My Sons) and didn't like it. What's worse, I didn't understand any of it and I have totally forgotten just about all of it. Either I had bad teachers or the material just didn't connect with me on any level. And I think that is one of the fundamental problems; if you can't understand what you are reading and/or if you find the material too drawn out, boring and tedious, then you really have no appreciation for it regardless of it's "relevance".

Not to get too far off topic, but if the only anime you've been exposed to is Pokemon, Dragonball Z, or Yu-Gi-Oh then I'd tend to agree with you that most anime is garbage. But there are series like Cowboy Bebop, Gundam:0083, Ghost in the Shell, and Macross Plus that actually deal with the themes that you'd find in "literature", but bring them across in a way that is easier to get a handle on. I never understood any of the themes in Death of a Salesman or in Ethan Frome, but I understood the themes in Cowboy Bebop implicitly. I don't know if it was the way they were presented but it connected with me on a level that any of those other works couldn't. When you strip away the guns, giant robots, spaceships, and fantastic situations what you have are stories about people.

Last edited by Captain Harlock; 02-05-05 at 12:39 PM.
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Old 02-05-05, 12:59 PM
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A 12-year old should be able and interested in reading more than just comics. But comics [the right comics] can be a great way to get an older-non-reader interested, then like was said earlier, segue into similar prose works. Or for smaller children. What is a Dr. Seuss book, after all, but basically a comic book with full-page panels? If my son wants to read comics [depending on what they are, of course], as long as he doesn't read *just* those, I wouldn't have a problem with it. Heck, I just checked out 8 graphic novels from the library that I had never read.
Saying anime is garbage is like saying books are garbage. Some of them are, yes. But for every Pokemon clone there's one or two Miyazakis or NGEvangelions.
But books do have to compete with TV, DVD, computers, the internet, and video games, and that is quite a challenge.

Regarding this phrase: "Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. "
Check out Diane Ravitch's 'The Language Police', an indepth study as to how political correctness in the schools is totally bowdlerizing all forms of literature, which definitely led to the absense of strong male role models [because, after all, that would be sexist.]
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Old 02-05-05, 03:32 PM
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Part of the problem is understanding what these boys WANT to read. By and large, this demographic prefers to read non-fiction books about subjects of interest. Give them books about skateboarding and NASCAR and motorcycles and fighter planes. That's how you get them to read. It's not with fiction and it's not with textbooks.

There's a reason high/low non-fiction is a good business for educational publishers. School libraries can't get enough of the stuff.
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Old 02-10-05, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Vandelay_Inds
I say teach kids just enough so they are able to make a living in today's society. 99% of humans are no more than worker ants.
Yes, what a shame we can't all be as deep and soulful as you.

Could you possibly come up with a less obvious way of saying: "I'm better than everybody"?
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Old 02-10-05, 07:55 PM
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Another problem isn't the books themselves, but HOW they are taught. Playing hunt-the-symbol will kill any book stone dead, no matter how enjoyable it could have been. I think it's extremely important to recognize the importance of ENJOYING THE STORY in any book, not just the so-called literary merit. I mean, Charles Dickens was the Stephen King of his day: his books sold like hotcakes to ordinary people who were on the edges of their seats to get the next installment. Why? Because he told interesting stories, and they're just as interesting now, if you're willing to approach them that way. (They also have a lot of other merits, which are great to discuss in class, but those aren't diminished by recognizing the fun-to-read plot/character aspect of the books!)

Or look at Shakespeare - I never appreciated him in high school, but now I adore his stuff. They're fantastic stories! Macbeth - murder, treachery, witchcraft! Othello - deceit, jealousy, trickery! (Etc.)

I think it's also important that when the "classics" are taught, there's room for personal opinion - for saying "I enjoyed this" or "I didn't enjoy that" rather than just cramming the "importance" of the book down people's throats. I have a Ph.D. in English lit, so clearly I enjoy a lot of stuff that other people don't care for, in terms of "classics," but I don't enjoy everything. For instance, I appreciate Faulker's importance in American literature, but I don't enjoy his stuff, and I loathe James Joyce with a passion.

There's so much fantastic modern young adult literature out there (not "issues" stuff, but just plain good books) that there's also no need to force-feed a handful of books from the canon just "because." A mix of contemporary and time-tested classics is a lot better, I think.
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Old 02-23-05, 09:37 AM
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I suppose I missed something. What exactly is the criteria that defines "reading"? Are only books classified as reading or do the periodicals and internet count as well? What are the goals one should get from reading? If reading the classics, an appreciation for literature and a more profound understanding of various issues would probably suffice. The more important classics are driven by social and individual issues: see Steinbeck, Sinclair, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne. Others are representative of the era and provide wonderful glimpses into their respective times: see Twain, Dickens, etc.

I rarely post on here but do "read" a lot. Much of the problem with classics is the rapid evolution of everyday language. The previous poster mentioned Faulkner and Joyce (I detest Joyce as well). Faulkner I truly struggle with; his works are not easy reads for me but are rewarding. Based on the conversation I hear everyday, I would surmise the actual difference between language used today versus used in the classics is a large contributor to the problem. It just seems like a large gap.

As the previous poster mentioned, leaving books open for interpretation is extremely important. Sure, some books have themes that can't be ignored but most should cause students to think. Even though it's driven into the ground, Chopin's "The Awakening" comes to mind as does Salinger, Welty, etc.

There are great classics out there: perhaps today's student would rather read more "modern" classics like Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Toni Morrison's works, etc. With kids more conscientious today of social issues, wouldn't novels like these be more inspiring to read than James Joyce?

There has been some great discussion in the previous posts, this is just my $.02.
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Old 02-23-05, 10:05 AM
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Certainly you have to 'read' to use the internet, but i wouldn't count that as 'reading.' To me, 'reading' is as much about format as it is about content--there's something different between reading a hardback or paperback copy of a classic [or not-so-classic], and reading an e-book or PDF copy on your computer. Reading periodicals is still 'reading' [of course, the 'importance' of this varies whether you're reading The Week or FHM], but it's not the 'reading' some folks mentioned above.
The original article mentioned both 'literary reading' [I'd guess Twain, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway, etc], and 'book reading' [Stephen King, Grisham, etc] and says boys' interest in either has decreased. And it mentions kindergarten kids, obviously kindergartners aren't reading Steinbeck. Some books are more historically important than others, but that doesn't mean someone shouldn't read The Stand or The History of Nascar or whatever.
I'd say use virtually whatever you have to, to get a child/boy interested in reading, then introduce other types/styles of writing. Make deals--for every one Steinbeck, you can read 2 Goosebumps or whatever--although this varies by child, you don't want to dissuade him from reading anything. Read and discuss the books together.
About language: certainly language, written and spoken, has changed over the past couple decades, much less centuries. But it wasn't too long ago that I was in junior/high school, and we read Shakespeare and the classics, and understood it. Part of that was having a teacher, parents, and peers, who enjoyed reading both 'books' and 'literature'; if you as a parent appear interested in it, a child will often follow.
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Old 02-23-05, 12:43 PM
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If reading the posts on DVD Talk is now what we consider "reading," then all hope is lost.
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Old 02-23-05, 01:35 PM
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This stuns and saddens me - I've been reading since I was 3, and it is and always has been one of my great loves. I read at least an hour every day, and that doesn't count all of the reading I do for work all day long. The pleasure of a great story is truly one of life's treasures. I cannot fathom restricting my (future) children from reading in any way - books are their own rewards. Don't get me wrong, I love computers, games,tv, dvds, movies, etc. too - but I give equal time to books. Thank goodness my three nephews love books - I would be so sad otherwise.

I had sort of thought that with Harry Potter, Goosebumps and Lemony Snicket the tide had turned and books were cool again. Guess it's time for popular characters on tv and in films to talk about reading again (see the Fonz on Happy Days, Voyagers, or "reading is fundamental" ads from the 80's ) to make reading popular.
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Old 02-23-05, 03:34 PM
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I think some are defining "reading" far too narrowly here. This is not a matter merely of fiction. Far more important (many of the fluent among us will gasp now) is the child's ability to learn to read for information. Reading and enjoying classics is fine, but the more important issue at hand is these students' abilities to read as a means of learning/gaining information. That is almost a survival requirement in modern society.

Teaching a studnet to be able to read and utilize a non-fiction book (or other text) is far more important than teaching him to appreciate the classics. Any other viewpoint is really putting the cart before the horse here. Worry about the students' ability to master the physical skill, not about his ability to appreciate art. Appreciating literature is not a survival skill. Reading for information is.
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Old 02-23-05, 03:48 PM
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They're giving them less interesting stuff to read, and at the same time there is more competition for a kid's attention. More tv channels, bigger video selections thanks to DVD, and more in-depth and immersive video games contribute to the issue. But I think the Internet is by far the biggest factor. Surfing the web has replaced recreation reading for many many kids.

Last edited by DRG; 02-23-05 at 03:52 PM.
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Old 02-23-05, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by DRG
They're giving them less interesting stuff to read
I disagree. There's a strogner emphasis than ever on high/low (high-interest, low reading ability) material in the schools right now. The stuff kids have in their own school libraries right now dwarfs what we had 20 years ago. Good luck to the 4th-grader of 1985 trying to find a book about dirt bikes or skateboards or F-16s. Now, all of those options are there for them.

You're right about competition for attention, though. That's obviously a huge problem for the development of reading skills.
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Old 02-23-05, 11:52 PM
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I love reading, but we're becoming a more visually-oriented culture. This has been happening for decades, possibly even over a century. I don't see this trend abating.
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Old 02-24-05, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by mgbfan
Appreciating literature is not a survival skill. Reading for information is.
Very nice summary. I would certainly agree on this and the issue of "narrowly defining" what reading encompasses. I do feel literature offers people the opportunity to see other points of view in comparison to their own. This is extremely important socially and one of the values I feel reading and literature can offer.

Last edited by slacker6; 02-24-05 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 02-24-05, 03:22 PM
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My 12-year-old was bored to tears with his assigned reading in school. I gave him a copy of "Ender's Game" and he read it in three days. He's now picking books out for himself in the local library. His latest selection was Hinton's "The Outsiders". We have to take the book away from him at night so he'll go to sleep.
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