Monday, September 18, 2006

Will It Matter if People Can't Read in the Future?

I saw the above headline on MSN's home page this morning. In fact, it was the first thing I saw after my computer loading...even before I had my first sip of coffee! My gut reaction was immediately... "well... yeah!" The question was asked by Michael Rogers in today's was to Practical Futurist. He quotes a study that shows that Americans are becoming less able to read long stretches of text and extrapolate from it. And, that this is the way things should be.

Fortunately, he goes on to say that complete illiteracy would be a bad thing. Whew! He had me worried for a moment. Then he said that reading was an artificial invention relatively young. Out of curiousity, I googled "invention of reading" and found this. It has nothing to do with what I was looking for, but wanted to share it with you anyway. But... I digress.

Rogers' final statement, "[reading]is a luxury, not a necessity," sent shivers up my spine. In his opinion (which he's entitled to) is that "young people today ...have plenty of literacy for everyday activities such as reading signs and package labels, and writing brief e-mails and text messages that don’t require accurate spelling or grammar."

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. would agree with Rogers that there is indeed a decline in reading skills, but unlike Rogers, he does not see the decline as a good or even inevitable thing. I find myself more on the side of Hirsch's thoughts.

What of the great texts of the past that make up part of our civilization? IMHO, just not being illiterate is not enough. There is a high correlation between reading ability and learning ability. The better a reader, the more able he is to learn in other areas.

Hirsch says, "Language arts are...knowledge arts. We have now taken a first step in understanding the correlation between reading ability and learning ability. We have established that high reading ability is a multiplex skill that requires knowledge in a wide range of subjects. It turns out that the same is true of learning ability. A basic axiom of learning is that the easiest way to learn something new is to associate it with something we already know. Much of the art of teaching is the art of associating what kids need to learn with what they already know. The process of learning often works as metaphor does, yoking old ideas together to make something new. In the nineteenth century, when people wanted to describe the new transportation technology that went chug-chug-chug, they called the engine an “iron horse” and the rail system “track way” (if they were Dutch) or “rail way” (if they were English) or “iron way” (if they were French, German, or Italian) or “narrow iron lane” (if they were Greek). All of these metaphors successfully conveyed a new concept by combining old concepts. As a consequence of the fact that we learn most easily when we attach the new to the old, people who already know a lot tend to learn new things faster and more easily than people who do not know very much."

I agree with Rogers: not everyone will love to read nor will they all read for pleasure and enjoyment. I don't love to do math, however I recognize the necessity for basic math skills. And, I'm afraid the schools are also doing a poor job of teaching those... teaching children, instead, to rely more and more on calculators. But... that's an issue for another blog. This one is already long enough!

Reading touches every area of our life. It saddens me and makes me feel sorry for future generations who, if Mr. Rogers is accurate, will miss out on experiences they can gain through reading that enriches their lives and makes them part of a greater civilization.


Marianne Arkins said...

All I can say is... ACK! I've always told my daughter that if she can read, she can learn to do ANYTHING.

It's not just about sending an email. Yanno?

That's really, really, really scary (and the irony is that I'm sending this from the library).

grasf - Get reading already, says Father

rach said...

I agree with what you said that reading touches every area of our lives. It's a very important way of keeping attuned to the things around us. Reading is a great way of learning great things and a nice way of being entertained.

I also share the same hope for the next generations. It would be sad if they lose passion for something as wonderful as reading.

Marianne Arkins said...

Hey Judy...

You been writing this week?

Just me, your neighborhood nag. You asked me to, right?

vrmvmxzg (you have got to be kidding) - Vera really missed vacuuming Max's xylophone. Zero goodness. (It's bad, I know -- but geez... lookit at the hard letters)