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Not-Reading Starts Early, Says Survey of Teachers

If you think that kids might be spending more times with video games these days, you might be right. I’ve just come across the result of a survey Pearson conducted in the UK, and a sizable number of teachers expressed concern over the reading habits of their pupils.

A total of 400 primary and secondary teachers were polled last month and the responses were uniformly bad. Nearly all the teachers (94%) reported that their pupils prefer spending time online to reading a book.

What’s more, over a quarter of the respondents reported that less than half of the students in a typical English class showed interest in reading. Of course, the one detail that we need to put this into perspective is what exactly the kids are reading in class. Given some of the stuff I can recall from my own school years I’m not surprised if kids are bored.

But the most startling statistic, and this is the one that foretells the downfall of Western Civilization,  is that teachers report that 42% of  their pupils are likely to have been turned off reading for pleasure the time they reach the age of 11. Scary, no?

Actually, it’s not – not on a societal scale at least.  I took a few minutes this morning to look for past survey results.  This small survey, which covered not much a handful of teachers, said the same thing that had been reported for years: lots of people don’t read.

Take this NYTimes article from 2007, for example. It cites a report which showed fewer than half of Americans read novels, stories, and poetry. Or there’s this report from 2011 which found that 40% of 15-year-olds didn’t like to read. While th numbers migh vary between one survey and the next, they all pretty much agree that lots of people don’t read.

See, there’s no reason to panic, nor is there any sign that kids have shorter attention spans, which is the conclusion that The Telegraph jumped to when they saw the survey results. I don’t see any details to support this:

  • The study – by the publisher Pearson – found that many schools fear children have short attention spans and prefer to spend time online rather than reading a novel.

Perhaps they got more information than me. I have the press release; they might have the full survey results. But even if there is more data to be had, I’m not worried. New tech has always been used as the boogieman by someone, and in spite of the moral panics society seems to have muddled through.

Speaking of  boogiemen, do you know my favorite? Comic books. In the 1950s it was believed that reading comic books would turn children to a life of delinquency and depravity. As you can clearly see from the breakdown in social fabric and the ensuing apocalypse, we obviously should have heeded that warning.

I’m sure we’ll do fine in adapting to a life online. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad.


image by hpeguk


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George June 20, 2012 um 1:32 pm

Well, it was only the introduction of the Comics Code that saved us from that delinquency & depravity. Now that there is no code, I expect we’ll reap the whirlwind pretty soon. 😉

Lynne June 20, 2012 um 2:50 pm

Yeah! It’s time to go back to the Silver Age! I demand less grey and more black and white in my comic plots and characters!

k1tsun3 June 20, 2012 um 4:37 pm

I read an interesting book over the weekend called Two-Bit Culture : the paperbacking of America (it was mentioned in one of the articles you linked to in one of your morning coffee posts last week: . The book, and the article, both make the point that there were very few actual bookstores (about 500 in the whole country) before paperbacks became popular, and very few people read more than the Bible or the newspaper. I was surprised in the book to read how much paperbacks were looked down on; they were considered shoddy and racy and would no doubt contribute to the moral decline of the population. But they were hugely popular, and suddenly people were buying millions more books than they ever had. The book is from 1984, so it doesn’t talk about ebooks, but it’s very interesting; I got the feeling that everything that happened in the early 20th century in regards to the introduction of paperbacks is happening all over again with ebooks.

Nate Hoffelder June 20, 2012 um 7:49 pm

My copy of that book just arrived today. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Lauren June 21, 2012 um 9:36 am

Paperbacks may have been shocking in the 70’s but by the 80’s they were pretty much the norm. It’s a matter of convienence. Lightweight and portable.
As far as reading goes, I let my kids read what they want, not what I want. As a librarian, I always tell parents let them read what they want. That way reading is fun. So what if little Johnny wants to read every car book or wrestler book. Who cares! My daughter loves to read about puppies and ponies. Fabulous! She’s reading. My son is about to turn 13 and he still reads. He will re-read certain books over and over and I actually bring home comics for him. He is into Batman btw.
This article is no surprise. If parents don’t read, then kids don’t think it’s important.

Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity languishes in the dark June 22, 2012 um 3:02 am

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