Teen literacy nose-diving? Don’t bet your socks

by Neil MarrThere's been the drone of contstant chatter and natter in the press, on TV and radio, on readers' and writers' forums, no doubt in pubs and parlours around the world and certainly in the blogasphere of late lamenting the passing of teenage literacy and sustained reading interest.

Some links to follow, but I came across this today at a massive 50,000-member forum for ebook reading folks:

More and more young people will lose literacy as encounters with any sort of long-form text disappear in an onslaught of video and aural bombardment and interaction. Critical thinking is a skill developed through learning to take a longer view and time to consider multiple aspects. Slicing everything into bite sized pieces doesn't lay the ground work for that training.
Yesterday morning, I'd have readily agreed with that. Last night changed my mind completely.

My sixteen-year-old schoolgirl granddaughter, Robyn, is over in France with Skovia and me for a wee holiday with her mum and dad and other grandma and granddad. Uncle Alex (who some of you know from BeWrite Books) arrives tomorrow.

I reckoned Robyn was pretty much representative of her age group, judging by her fun FaceBook posts and text messages in some kind of odd teen-jargon that I can hardly understand: All phonetic spelling, obscure abbreviations, no capitals, no punctuation.

After my epiphany, I certainly hope she is representative.

Last night, she suddenly became still and hushed on a lounger on the terrace. She was reading a YA paperback. After two or three hours, she toddled off to bed and I took a look at the book. It runs to around 400 pages, is intelligently written ... and a bookmark showed she was well into it.

She'd been utterly absorbed in her novel and its world, while three handy computers lay idle.

Maybe I misunderstood all along and was too quick to judge.

Here, on the other hand, is what some prophets of doom have been saying over the weekend:

The Independent, UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/a-radical-future-for-book-publishing-2058847.html

The popular An American Editor blog: http://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/literacy-in-the-graphic-nove-age/

MobileRead forum thread, International: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=95535

There's no shortage of gloomy articles on the net forecasting the death of teenage reading. None impress me as much as wee Robyn's simple and quiet evidence to the contrary.

1 Comment on Teen literacy nose-diving? Don’t bet your socks

  1. As with any rule, there are exceptions. For some teenagers, comic books are the path to learning to love to read. This was the the path I understand, for example, Mike Cane took. I, in contrast, rarely read a comic book in my youth; I didn’t find them interesting. I much preferred the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books.

    But an exception such as Robyn doesn’t prove the broader statement is incorrect; it simply proves that there is hope for some and that Robyn is the exception. Just as you can cite Robyn, I can point to a half dozen of the children living on my block who will be lucky to graduate high school because they cannot understand/comprehend the mandatory texts or are so disinclined to read them that they simply ignore them. Does my 6 prove or does your 1 disprove? Actually neither proves nor disproves.

    The issue with literacy is not whether people read; the issue is level of comprehension. Comic books and graphic novels are written at a lower comprehension level than a standard history or science textbook. That one voraciously reads comic books and understands (comprehends) every Pow! and Bam! does not mean that one will comprehend the causes of the American Revolutionary War or the function of the aorta.

    There is nothing wrong with reading graphic novels and comic books; there is something wrong if they define the extent of the reader’s literacy.

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