Friday, February 15, 2008

Who reads for pleasure anymore?

According to International Reading Association president Linda Gambrell in a her recent column in Reading Today, the number of teens and young adults who are reading just for fun is decreasing. Citing data from a National Endowment for the Arts report released in November 2007, Gambrell recounted these unsettling statistics:

  • Nearly half of all Americans ages 18-24 read no books for pleasure.
  • From 1984-2004 the percentage of 13-year-olds who reported that they read for fun declined from 35% to 30%.
  • For 17-year-olds the decline was from 31% to 22%.

I know there are a lot more media options competing for a young adult's attention than when I was in high school and college, but as a lifetime reader, I find these results disturbing. A student who doesn't escape into a world of science fiction, fantasy, or history; or doesn't seize the opportunity to read poetry, plays, or biographies; or never ventures into Aztec ruins, Scottish castles, a coral reef, or the internal mechanisms of a modern machine-- is missing out on a galaxy of worlds found in the pages of books.

But not only that, students who don't take the time to read "just for fun" will most likely perform lower in school and on the job.

Consider Gabrell's insightful observations: "Individuals who engage in reading for pleasure are better readers and writers than nonreaders. Children and teenagers who read for pleasure on a daily or weekly basis score better on reading tests than infrequent readers. Frequent readers also score better on writing tests than infrequent readers."

And as I've mentioned on this blog previously, Gabrell points out that poor reading skills are surfacing in the marketplace also. "Employers now rank reading and writing as top deficiencies in new hires. One in five U.S. workers reads at a lower skill level than his or her job requires."

Although I may be preaching to the choir on this one, consider the impact we'd have if we each recommended a book a day to a child, adolescent, or young adult. It doesn't have to be something fancy or heavy duty—just a book that would pique their interest. I suspect we'd all enjoy the effects which would boomerang back to us in the classroom and work place.

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