Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Future of Reading

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Future of Reading

Article excerpt

IS reading becoming a "lost art" among the young, as the president of the College Board asked recently? On the 300th anniversary of newspaper publishing in America, this is a sobering question. New statistics on the verbal portion of national Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) exams show yet another downturn - 4 percent - in students' ability to read and comprehend.

Part of the reason for the SAT decline is that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are taking the test. That certainly is to the good. But there's little doubt that recent decades have seen a steady erosion in reading and literacy. In a recent national assessment of students, more than half said they read less than 10 pages a day. More than half also said they spent over three hours a day watching TV and music videos. As one high-school classics teacher lamented to us last week, "The kids who come to me these days just don't read many books."

These perceptions are also backed up by a Times Mirror study ("An Indifferent Age") in July showing that, for the first time ever, young Americans read less and were less knowledgeable about people and events than their elders. This finding should force us to pause. Reading and thinking are closely related activities. The practice and discipline of reading and study helps develop deeper, more nuanced thinking. In a country that depends on an informed citizenry to remain free and prosperous, any steady loss of literacy is a serious matter.

In 1690, when the first colonial newspaper, Publick Occurrences, was published in Boston, the colonies were the most literate place on earth. To the American Puritans, reading was a nearly sacred form of mental liberation. As historian David Hall points out, "Learning how to read and becoming `religious' were perceived as one and the same thing .... The godly in England and New England valued direct access to the Word of God as the most precious of their privileges. Thus did literacy figure at the heart of cultural politics; thus did it represent the freedom these people proclaimed for themselves. …

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