Stop the Presses

Hering writes something I completely agree with… or, at least, enough so that I’m actually willing to paper over the very minor differences in opinion I have with it:

In the words of NEA Chairman Dana Gioia, the report “confirms — without any serious qualification — the central importance of reading for a prosperous, free society. … Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Don’t blame the schools. Ninth-graders nationally are doing better on reading than they used to. It’s among 12th graders where there’s a drop, but also there’s been a decline in reading comprehension among college graduates and among people with advanced degrees.


Though, as always, I wish he’d dig a bit deeper.

That last sentence suggests a direction to dig in, even.

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2 Comments on “Stop the Presses”

  1. Storm Brewer Says:


    “Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

    Bullshit.

    OK now look… what is with the old school discounting new media technologies as not “reading” and not valid? You are probably equally convinced that creating multimedia content to communicate ideas is not “writing.”

    Looking at screens full of written words and decoding them is reading. Tracking blogs, pull referencing with Dig is reading. Grinding through dozens and hundreds of emails is reading. Maybe the testing methodology does not fit the new skills. I can think of no other reason for coming to the conclusion that today’s youth, who read and write more than any generation to date, are less literate.

    The big difference, I will concede, is that gathering information by reading web pages is different in that today’s reader may not feel compelled to read the work cover to cover, but rather, is inclined to take what they want and leave the rest. Information is packaged that way today. There is too much there to master so we are invited to drill down only as far as we feel we need. We are invited to come back again when we need more. New media authors have the freedom to include many channels of detail and allow the reader to personalize their access to the content. They also have the freedom to update the content with new information in real time.

    Digital natives may read books the same way, scanning chapter headings then reading only what they are looking for. They may randomly access the book, reading chapters out of order. See writings by futurist Ian Jukes for information on the fact that today’s youth actually have different brain development, good in some ways, not so good in others, but probably more well suited to their world.

    No possible way though, could you question that everyone has much more convenient access to much more information than ever before, or that people are taking advantage of that access. And it all happened so fast. And education was not ready for it and is still, tragically, not ready for it.

    So it hardly surprises me to see the NEA tilting at windmills, longing for the times of old rather than accepting the realities of today’s youth. Educators should be looking into the future, the world that these students will inhabit, with greater access to more information than we can dream. Educators should be equipping students with relevant skills such as reading critically and successfully searching the most recent and complete works.

    The biggest problem, I think, is that education power elite simply do not understand today’s world let alone the future.

    I could imagine a test of information access, current cultural awareness, information handling, mass collaboration, and other web 2.0 skills. I could imagine giving this assessment to today’s decision makers and today’s youth. This test would no doubt indicate that the generation in power is no way competent in today’s literacy and that the future is grim if they aren’t forced to change or forced to relinquish their leadership authority!

    The kids are doing great thank you. If you get out of their way they will do great things. If you let go of some of your paradigms and bring your experience into this century, you may even be able to prepare them for greater things yet.

  2. Dennis Says:

    Storm Brewer,

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second even though I agree with most of what you said.

    Reading – not skimming and collating information in a very Web 2.0-way – is still a useful skill.

    We might think of “old” reading as linear, with one idea physically following another on the page. This is how large, complex written works are constructed.

    “New” reading, on the other hand, is probably akin to what you describe – multiple sources read in a non-linear fashion.

    (Bear in mind these are gross exaggerations, and points on a continuum at best. I think the distinction is a lot fuzzier than I’m making it out to be.)

    Given that, I maintain that both kinds of reading are useful. I think the former helps develop the ability to sustain focus for longer periods of time. I know that was one of the benefits I had from the constant reading of books, both as a kid and later in college.

    It might be useful to also think of the written word as a form of rhetoric, a form of communication; as such, the organization of a single work or document still remains important. If one is so busy skimming and getting information from multiple sources, what do they miss from a linear, sustained reading of a single coherent piece of writing?

    Thoughts?


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