Young folks not reading? They are reading online.

The NEA says, “The biggest decline is among people 18 to 24 years old — 28 percent.”

Is anyone surprised by that?

Kristin Kovacic, who teaches writing at the Creative and Performing Arts High School and Chatham College, said ….”My hunch is that people no longer have the habit of mind to be readers. Reading should be a passion. You can’t force anyone to be passionate. You have to build that habit.”

But one of the specific things the article mentions is that people are surfing the internet. I do on the internet what I used to do at the library. I look up information. I even read articles, magazines, newspapers, and books online.

I still buy books because I am a bibliophile, but I buy less at full price.

Do you think most people are reading more on the net? I certainly am. And I am a voracious reader.

Pew says that 77% of people in this age group (18-29) use the internet. Maybe they are getting their reading fixes, even their books read, online.

In a different article, Pew says, “…6% of the entire U.S. adult population (internet users and non-users alike) have created blogs. That’s one out of every 20 people. And 16% of all U.S. adults (or one in six people) are blog readers.”

So, if 77% of 18-29 year olds are on the internet, don’t you think a high percentage of them would read blogs? I read blogs for entertainment and relaxation, as well as for information and education.

Why didn’t NEA look at people reading on the net?

Why folks don’t read short stories

Elissa Minor Rust wrote about short fiction and why people don’t read it.

I think that people don’t read short stories for several reasons.

First, people may never have read a fun short story in their lives. What they get in school is literature and most literature, in my experience anyway, is depressing. Who wants to be depressed? So, if they’ve never enjoyed reading a short story, they won’t look for short stories to enjoy.

Second, short stories are much harder to write well. There is less room for error, less leeway in the importance of each word/line/paragraph.

Third, short stories are very dense. They’re not like a sitcom, where the embibee already knows the characters and the relationships of each person, with one or two new walk-ins permitted in the show. Instead, the embibee of a short story has to winnow out relationship information from tiny snippets like “my frog grandmother.” Okay, that lady didn’t like that grandmother. Or maybe she did and the grandmother taught her all about frogs… Short stories may be short, but they are not simple. And for entertainment, simple is better.

EMR’s article found during a Google search on “Americans read.” Random fortuitousness.

Ways to get students to read

I was reading about ways to get students to read the assignments, even when they don’t usually read. The resource is not available, but it did have some good suggestions.

Direct student attention to the reading the class period before by saying something SPECIFIC about the upcoming reading, e.g., “When you’re reading chapter 7 this week, pay particular attention to the author’s explanation of X and think about how it compares to Y.” Statements of this nature are generally more effective than “Don’t forget to do the reading.”

Tell students you will be giving unannounced quizzes on the readings a number of times throughout the term—and do it. Vary the quiz times so that they won’t be predictable (i.e., go ahead and give a quiz two periods in a row!). Be sure the quizzes count at least a small percentage toward the final grade.

Give students short in-class tasks based on the readings to perform in small groups or in pairs at the beginning of the period. When lack of preparation hurts their classmates in addition to themselves, students often feel a stronger sense of responsibility to do the work.

Of course there’s also the
put it in syllabus
make sure your lectures build on the reading
make homework assignments useful.

But you know those already, don’t you?

A reading list

Atypical Homeschool has a 15 year old asking what books students should read by the time they are out of high school. As a teacher of college freshmen, a homeschooling mother, and a PhD in English, I have some definite opinions. You might be surprised by what they are.

So what would I recommend?

I would recommend reading the Bible, especially Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I would recommend reading fairy tales, particulary the Grimm stories, the Andersen stories, and Aesop’s Fables.

I would recommend reading children’s classics, such as A Child’s Garden of Verses and The Little Red Hen, and The Little Engine That Could.

Other books, in no particular order:

Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Pilgrim’s Progress

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Call of the Wild by Jack London, even though it presupposes evolution

The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, again, evolution

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, dystopian, but widely read in high schools, many college teachers assume you’ve read it

Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm by George Orwell

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, about racial prejudice

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, a sad story, but a regular high school read

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Constitution of the United States

The Declaration of Independence

The Pied Piper of Hamlin by Robert Browning, the children don’t come home

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, a bad guy gets saved at the cost of his girlfriend’s life, her choice, and when he finds out, he comes in revenge and dies

The Short Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Mythology by Edith Hamilton- Greek, Roman, and Norse

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I taught this in 10th grade literature and my older son has read it. It may not be classic literature, but I think it is worth reading. It introduces students to the idea of nuclear holocaust in a story without, usually, scaring the bejeezus out of them.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton. I had to read this in my public high school. I remember reading it, talking about it, adn thinking about it.

Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

Peter Pan by Sir James M. Barrie

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a ubiquitous choice for high school students. Everyone assumes you’ve read it.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a better choice of his work. About the Salem Witch Trials.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, watch the 1952 version of the movie, not the modern one. (Dramas should be seen, not read.) It’s a comedy.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder, again everyone assumes you’ve read it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night by Shakespeare- comedies

Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet by Shakespeare- tragedies

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Okay, that’s 60, with just the names listed here. I think that’s sufficient for the day.

No, it’s not.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Robert Frost
Langston Hughes
Emily Dickinson

And my previous recommendations, of the best poetry ever, are here, here, and here. It is a series of lists, with some discussion, on 66 poems that I like or have liked. (Note: The poems for PoeTree had to be short.)

Letters to a Teacher

I began reading Letters to a Teacher by Sam Pickering, “the teacher who inspired Dead Poets Society” today.

It’s an easy read, written on a conversational level, with snippets of character vignettes for people you will never know, some of whom you are not quite sure how they got in there.

I am enjoying it. But he said not to read it all at one sitting, so I’m not. These are my thoughts on chapter 1.

He quotes Charles Conrad Abbott, a turn of the 20th century naturalist who was important in his time, as saying “Ascribe infallibility to the professor and you become at best his echo, and condemn to slavery what should be free as the air, your own mind.”

I thought I’d help the students understand that by having two missing items in my syllabus. (Okay, not really. But they are missing.)

On page 20 of the book he recounts a letter from a reader who said that he found a piece of paper in the book at a library and wanted him to know “what is on the minds of your readers.” It’s a long pink paper that says “take chicken out of freezer.”

But my marker for the book is a hair appt card. It’s not what I was thinking about, but what piece of flat paper was handy to stick into the book when and where I was reading it.

Often I use old receipts, but since I was at the library, I had to fish something out of my purse and the only thing there was a hair appt. I am sure the person reading it was NOT thinking “take chicken out of freezer” or they wouldn’t have had to write that down.

Problems with English Class: 4

It’s a question of language. Newmark’s Door likes “straightforward modern English.” He says that nothing else should be read.

With an exception or two, students should only be asked to read works written in straightforward modern English. No dialect, no Olde English, little Faulkner. My high school English teacher delighted in having the class read aloud from The Canterbury Tales. To what end, I have no idea. (I’ll except Shakespeare and maybe Tom Sawyer.)

No one is reading Old English in their high school classrooms. It’s an entirely different language from English, with its own syntax, vocabulary, grammar rules, etc. You have to have a class in the language before you can read anything in it.

And I CERTAINLY agree that Faulkner’s not much fun. (I flunked a quiz on one of his books that another guy in my class aced using Cliff Notes.)

But to avoid the Canterbury Tales, just because it’s not in modern English, is to miss the funniest, bawdiest, weirdest tales in English history. What student wouldn’t laugh at someone getting farted on? Or having their butt burnt? Or someone thinking the world was really flooding? (“The Miller’s Tale”) I translated it as we read it in class. But there’s some fun stuff in there. I mean Chanticleer has even been turned into a kid’s story, like a more modern Aesop. (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”)

It is hard to read dialect. Modern authors are told not to write in dialect, but just to put it in “regular English.” But I think it sometimes diminishes the tale. No, I don’t always want to read dialect, but I do think it adds to the verisimilitude of the story.

Problems with English Class: 2

Too much time is spent on long novels. Assigning a few novels is fine. But if an important goal is to help student write better, short stories and essays can serve just as well. I got nothing out of the tedious Great Expectations; my parents complained, years later, about having to read Moby Dick; one of my daughters was frustrated by A Wizard of Earthsea.

This is Newmark’s Door’s second problem with English class.

For this I would say that I don’t, in general, assign long novels. I’ve never liked literature that was required and sometimes that meant I couldn’t understand it, even when I knew what all the words meant. In almost all circumstances that I can control I pick a shorter book over a longer one, if both of them are classic literature.

The only time I don’t do that is when I have the option to pick a literary classic that isn’t depressing. When I had the opportunity to teach Gulliver’s Travels or Great Expectations, I took Gulliver’s Travels. It ends in a rather odd state, with the main character rejecting his family and living in the stable with his horses, but the book has some quite fun things. Gulliver pees on the palace, to save it from fire. He gets grossed out by being dressed up by ladies. He refuses to conquer a country for another. I like it.

But when the powers that be took my option for any happy books out, I took one of the short ones instead. In fact, I added a really short one back in. In my freshman class, the second semester, which is specifically “Writing about Literature,” we read Frankenstein and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

So I mostly agree with Newmark’s point on long books. Why read a long one if a short one will do?

If you love the short ones, you’ll graduate to the long ones later- or not. But at least you’ll have been exposed to good literature in a more palatable way.

Good read.

Interested in an interesting graduation speech? Read this.

Interested in hearing what snooty remarks the fortunate few came up with to address their children’s fellow grad and his parent? Read this. (Same article.)

Interested in knowing more about our military make-up? Read this. (Same article.)

Interested in hearing about some of our great soldiers, including one who has been to Iraq on three tours, injured every time, and is still too young to drink? Read this. (Once again, the same article.)

What I’m saying is it is interesting. Go read it.

Print to Electronic: A Problem?

There have been times when reading was regarded with suspicion. Some among the ancient Greeks regarded the rise of reading as cultural decline: they considered oral dialogue, which involves clarifying questions, more hospitable to truth. But the transition from an oral to a print culture has generally been a transition from a tribal society to a society of self-consciously separated individuals. In Europe that transition alarmed ruling elites, who thought the “crisis of literacy” was that there was too much literacy: readers had, inconveniently, minds of their own. Reading is inherently private, hence the reader is beyond state supervision or crowd psychology.

Which suggests why there are perils in the transition from a print to an electronic culture. Time was, books were the primary means of knowing things. Now most people learn most things visually, from the graphic presentation of immediately, effortlessly accessible pictures.

This is an interesting assertion, but I don’t see where the proof is. Why is there a peril in switching from print to the electronic culture simply because the elite thought reading let you know too much?

The fact is that online education is fast and often self-correcting. Minute by minute updates of information are often available.

It is true that the quality of online information varies considerably, but doing a little research will isolate the useless from the useful.

I do not see where the change from print to electronic is necessarily bad. IF all the print is available as electronic.

And with millions of Harry Potter being sold on the day of release, you can’t say books are dead.

Original quote from George Will, 2004.

Reading is Down

A survey of 17,135 persons reveals an accelerating decline in the reading of literature, especially among the young. Literary reading declined 5 percent between 1982 and 1992, then 14 percent in the next decade. Only 56.9 percent of Americans say they read a book of any sort in the past year, down from 60.9 percent in 1992. Only 46.7 percent of adults read any literature for pleasure.

George Will, 2004