Harry Potter, James Patterson and Oprah Winfrey’s book club aside, Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.Despite the problem of establishing the direction of causation, I am inclined to believe that it is the reduction in reading for pleasure that has caused the deterioration in reading and writing competency. It is so much easier to teach young people to do something when they get to take some ownership of and responsibility for what they are learning. Within some loose constraints regarding length and degree of difficulty, students should simply be encouraged and expected to read, with adults leading by example. As I've blogged before, force-feeding students a steady diet of stuff that doesn't interest them is a losing strategy. And, sadly, there can be a vicious cycle here: loss of interest leads to more regimentation; more regimentation further erodes interest; and on it goes.
That is the message of a new report being released today by the National Endowment for the Arts, based on an analysis of data from about two dozen studies from the federal Education and Labor Departments and the Census Bureau as well as other academic, foundation and business surveys. After its 2004 report, “Reading at Risk,” which found that fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry, the endowment sought to collect more comprehensive data to build a picture of the role of all reading, including nonfiction.
I came across the article linked above shortly after reading this story in the Sunday paper, from which the following is an excerpt:
As Richard [Louv] notes in "Last Child in the Woods," the obesity epidemic coincides with a record-high increase in organized sports for kids. How does that correlate with the need for more outdoor play?Again, there could be reverse causality, but I am inclined to think that the organized sports, when they come at the expense of disorganized play, are the critical factor here. If there is no imagination involved, we don't get the full body and mind involved, and we don't get the long-term benefits.
[Martha] Erickson: Obesity relates not only to activity level but also to the type and quantity of food we eat. That said, in organized sports, kids often have little actual playtime. But watch a group of children in a wooded area, and you'll see them running, climbing over things, then dashing over to whatever captures their attention next.
[Tedd] Mitchell: Last summer, my sons built a fort out of storage pallets and hay at our ranch. That project took them all weekend. They were like beavers, constantly moving back and forth between our barn and the woods. Sports are more about following directions to the letter. They're great for discipline -- and can have mental and physical benefits -- but they don't leave room for the imagination. Kids get bored so easily because they don't have the amount of time we did, when we were young, to just play.