Friday, December 07, 2007

Kathleen's Cause: Save Book Larnin'

Here I am, center stage last week, doing my my "Book Nook" half hour for my granddaughter's kindergarten class. Twenty five-year-olds with ears perked and eyes glued to paper, pictures and printed word. They were excited about the story. They were eager to interpret, to bring their experiences to the story, to ask, to answer, to guess what would happen next.

Here was an activity that has held its charm for the active human mind for people all over the world since time--as the human mind knows it--began. This is the story hour, and it is where the reading habit starts. It's a seed, and like most seeds, it sprouts easily. The tiny spring-green plant is fragile, though. There's all kinds of growth clamoring for space in the same ground.

Storytelling has always been available pretty much to everyone, but reading is something else. Within the last couple of centuries books and reading skills have become available to the masses. But within the last couple of decades, the number of readers has taken a downward turn. Last week I enjoyed the scene you see here, but a week or so before that, the findings of yet another study about the decline in the number of readers in this country was front page news.

Functional illiteracy is a big problem, of course, but that's not what the study was about. It was about the number of people who actually spend time reading, both for information and for pleasure. That's the habit that seems to be endangered, especially among young adults. Should we be worried? Should we be sad? Should we be working to save readers the way we do other endangered species? Or should we accept the claim that extinction is part of the ebb and flow of life on this planet and that reading is bound to be replaced?

Replaced by what? By whom? For better, or for worse? Let's play futurist. Is the printed word becoming a relic? To what end? Do you see anything on the horizon that promises as much fulfillment as reading? Frankly, folks, I'm a little scared.


Betina Krahn said...

Reading is functional symbology. It's the brain learning a common set of visual symbols and interpreting and reinterpreting them. A very important thing in brain development: handling symbols and learning to combine and re-combine them in creative and ever-changing ways.

Reading has a significant impact on how the brain develops. It's not just about storing words with appropriate meanings and dragging them out now and again. It's an interactive process. . . the brain actually uses input to develop in certain ways. Take away reading and people will be changing the way their brains develop and function. What would people be like if brain input contained only video content. . . no symbols from alphabet or mathematics? Would we revert to the stone age mentally? In countries that refuse to allow their girls to learn to read, have they condemned their brains and thus their society and cultural to "pre-literate" stone age development? Yep.

With that said, I'm concerned that reading is made such a chore in schools (And yes, I do have English teachers in my immediate family! Sorry guys!) And there is such snobbery about some things being "worthy" of reading and other things NOT... which to me is pure crap. (Not a word I use often: CRAP.) Reading of any and all kinds is GOOD. Why can't we get that through "educators'"' heads?

Betina Krahn said...

Sorry, Kathy-- on my soapbox there!

I don't see reading becoming a relic, actually. It's too valuable for that. But I do see the kind of reading changing and the medium in which it's done changing. Clearly, an increasing amount of what is read today in developed countries is read electronically. I don't think books will go out of style for a very long time. But books will share "story" with the electronic media. . . I think that's inevitable. And it may save reading for the technologically advanced generations to come.

flip said...

My mother loved to read. She passed on her love of reading to me. It was important to me that my children love to read. My second daughter, Amber, is just as ardent a reader as I am. But my oldest daughter and my son both have a learning disability that affects their reading skill. Luckily their reading comprehension is very high. The trick was finding stories that they loved. My son was the hardest case. Finally, I found a series called Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan. My son loved the series and couldn't wait for the books to come out. He read the books immediately. He read the entire series so he had to find other good stories. He enjoys Stephen King. I am hoping my youngest will develop a love for reading. I encourage her by reading stories to her.

I love movies and tv. As anyone noticed the increasing improved quality of writing for tv. Before the movies and tv shows were filmed, they were written. I think that our culture has shown that the better written movies and tvs are more popular.

Storytelling is such an important part of our humanity. Before written stories, we had oral storytelling. Then someone invented the printing press and the written word became more important.
The more universal literacy became the more people read. Movies and tv are just another development in story telling.

As far as the written word, I am a little skeptical about predictions of its demise. Look at the written word all over the internet. There are fan writing. There are blogs.

My oldest is 20 years old. She enjoys reading, but she has little time. She works fulltime and goes to school parttime. Maybe her time reading is limited, but she still reads for enjoyment. But she is 20 years old This is an important period of social development. I read less in my 20s and I am a passionate reader.

I am sorry about going on and on.

Christie Ridgway said...

Flip, like you I learned my love of reading from my mom. I have tried to pass it along to my sons with success here and there. They rarely read for entertainment, which is my fave form of fun-time. But I like movies and TV, any kind of storytelling, actually. I don't think that will go away.

Betina: I'm with you in that I think the schools are responsible for a large part in killing the love of reading by not allowing kids choices and going for the dreary, ugly, not-fun classics =every single time=. Surfer Guy is a math teacher and at his high school they had a mandatory readin period each day for a while...the kids loved romance novels (I made sure they were sweet), even the boys. They just enjoyed that time for reading for pleasure.

But they took it away. So much mandatory testing to prepare for. Argh.

Debra Dixon said...

I don't think reading will ever disappear. I think we may be coming to the end of the age of the book as a printed object with flipping pages.

For adults.

I don't think children's books are endanger--at least not for a while--because those books are sold in part because the adults want to be part of the process and it's hard to do that with a video screen.

The grandson my sister is raising (helped by me and my mother because can you imagine what it's like to be 50ish and handed a baby??)...anyway, we've all read to him since before he could see or sit upright. He's a major bookaholic.

So, I think reading will only disappear if we don't do what Kathleen is doing and devote that storytime to children. It's a gift beyond price and I don't mean that as hyperbole.

Ellen said...

I'm not convinced the schools are at fault and certainly not the teachers. I blame the government and their mandatory testing none of which allows feedom to read what you want. Schools have to follow government regulations and teachers have to follow school regulations.

Playground Monitor said...

I have always loved to read and read to my sons from birth. Alas, neither of them were readers (they'd rather stomp through the woods, camp and fish) UNTIL they were in their 20's. My younger son discovered the Tolkien Rings trilogy and devoured it. Now he's a big Dan Brown fan and is eagerly awaiting Brown's new book. My other son now reads to his 18-month-old daughter who can say the word "book" quite clearly as she thrusts one at you and climbs into your lap.

BabyGrand is getting books for Christmas. She gets books at the drop of a hat! LOL!

I don't think reading will disappear. Like Debra said, the medium may change but people will still read words. Me... I don't like e-books. I much prefer to hold a paper book in my hands.

And what Betina said -- yeah.


lois greiman said...

Some of us will always love to read with a paper book in our hands, I think. Women are especially tactile and lovers of the written word. But reading takes time, an ever decreasing commodity for people of both genders. Still, all we can do is write the best we can and introduce those around us to the beauty of the written word

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, what you were doing in that class is priceless. :-)

Before I had kids, I used to read to preK and K students with an inner-city volunteer group. There were 5 year-olds who did not know how to hold a book and turn the pages. It was so sad at first, but was very rewarding when these same children could read by the end of the school year. They were given books to keep throughout the program. Some of these kids said that those were the only books in their home.

I learned to love to read from my parents.

My DH and I started dating after I loaned him two books (we met at work) and my kids read more books than I did at their age.

flip said...

I really think the key to passing on the love of reading is finding the right book. Even adults can learn to read. I loaned some romance books to a co-worker who did not read. She loved them and became an avid reader.

Kathleen Eagle said...

As if to prove a point, the dang electronics have been giving me fits today! Maaargh! Sometimes I wonder whether the computer is my tool or the other way around. Back in a minute after I read these yummy looking comments....