A new report from the NEA reveals that reading is on the rise among Americans. From Dana Gioia, Chairman of the NEA:
“For the first time in over a quarter-century, our survey shows that literary reading has risen among adult Americans. After decades of declining trends, there has been a decisive and unambiguous increase among virtually every group measured in this comprehensive national survey.”
Gioia is optimistic about the results.”Cultural decline is not inevitable,” he argues. “For those of us who have studied the impact of active and engaged literacy on the lives of individuals and communities, Reading on the Rise provides inspiring news.”
Print and electronic media are buzzing about the NEA report. A Google news search reveals 42 publications reporting on the news, with the Google blog search uncovering over 2,000 blogs talking about the topic.
The Washington Post’s Ann Patchettechoes Gioia’s excitement and emphasizes the importance of reading. “Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone,” she explains. “It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we’ve never met, living lives we couldn’t possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character’s skin.”
Others are more cautious about what the results of the NEA’s report mean and take issue with the study’s design. Kassia Krozser over at Booksquare says of the report, “It defines reading very narrowly. Not only does it refuse to acknowledge that there are many readers who read for pleasure but don’t read “literary” works — think of those readers who derive great enjoyment from a steady diet of, oh, historical biography — but it doesn’t explore different types of reading.”
Brandon from Flap Copyquestions the study’s lack of differentiation in the type of reading performed by participants. “The cautionary wisdom of Mark Twain keeps running through my mind,” he writes. “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
Over at the Higher Ed blog, David Eubanks has written an interesting piece in which he argues that digital media are rapidly replacing print media. While electronic texts are becoming increasingly popular, Eubanks argues our interactions with the printed word are turning away from “reading” and towards “viewing.”
He examines the future of college textbooks in light of this shift, proposing that technical disciplines will easily make the shift to electronic alternatives in the future, but courses that require lengthy readings and intense concentration will still fall back on the printed page. He writes,
Imagine a best case, where you are curled up with a computer with a big beautifully optimized screen for reading. You open up A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch and begin reading where you left off. Then an icon at the bottom of the screen flickers–you have a new facebook message. Or your calendar pops up with a reminder that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Or (more likely) Windows wants to reboot itself because it just downloaded a patch. If your mind wanders at all, you may want to google a strange word, or look up Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s biography. Now imagine trying to do the same with an organic chemistry textbook instead, where more discipline is required to stay on task.
Click the link below to read more interesting stories and reports from January!
Note: We bring you an account of last year’s annual Changing Lives Through Literature conference in advance of this year’s conference on February 26, 2009. The deadline to register for this year’s conference is February 12. For more information, stay tuned on the blog or send an e-mail to Tam Lin Neville at tamlin(at)rcn.com.
by Allan McDougall
On January 29, 2008, the Changing Lives Through Literature annual conference brought together the Executive Director and Co-Director of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, the Director of Consulting and Training from the Center for Teen Empowerment, a representative from the Maine Humanities Council, five English professors, one Theatre Studies professor, one Education professor, three representatives from the Connecticut Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies (including a professor of Peace Studies), 23 probation officers, four judges, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, one attorney, and three graduate students. I was the only non-American.
This post will highlight key questions raised during the conference and initiate a dialogue about the progress CLTL made during 2008. This post will provide discussion questions based around the 2008 conference; for a comprehensive review the conference, see Tam Lin Neville’s detailed meeting summary in the Spring 2008 issue of the CLTL Newsletter (available by emailing Tam at the address listed at the top of this post).
All students in the Changing Lives Through Literature program, without exception, need to make changes in their lives. In fact, they are all doing so, as do all of the rest of us, for to be alive is to change. While change is inevitable, though, its direction is not.
The CLTL students have typically experienced a number of changes for the worse in their lives, sometimes in their family situation, often in their behavior, and probably most recently in their status within the legal system. Some have gone from not having a record to getting one, some from minor scrapes with the law to a major one. Many of them have learned only two ways to deal with this kind of painful change: acting out in inappropriate and ultimately self-defeating ways or numbing their pain with drugs and alcohol. Making them aware of other, less self-defeating options that will redirect their lives in more positive directions is the purpose of CLTL.
What better way to explore options for one’s life than to read and talk and think and write about how others live theirs? And about how our experiences and choices are related to theirs? About how we might learn from their mistakes, learn to feel compassion for people different from ourselves, be validated by finding out that others experience the same frustrations, doubts, and difficulties as we do in their own lives, that we are not alone?
My posting is a response Bob Waxler’s recent post on “Deep Reading.”Bloggers discussed many aspects of deep reading and attempted to define what it means.
InProust and the Squid(2007), Maryanne Wolf makes clear that a key source of worry in the 21st century includes that people may not engage in deep reading or reading at all for that matter. Wolf articulates a connection between Socrates’ worry about his world moving from an oral to a written culture to our current worry that people won’t read as we move into the digital age. Wolf explains that this correlation is “relevant today as we and our children negotiate our own transition from a written culture to one that is increasingly driven by visual images and massive streams of digital information” (19).
Wolf talks about how the act of reading actually changes the make-up of the brain. What then will happen to us if we don’t read? Though there is no particular answer to this question, we can look at the inverse side of the argument; that is, what happens to us when we do read?
Any time we communicate, we have an opportunity to invent ourselves for our audience. Literature is no different. When we read a new story, just as when we meet a new person in our lives, we take cues from what they say and how they say it to see whether or not we trust their account, what their biases are, and whether or not we’ll decide to like them.
The following excerpts are taken from two short pieces of literature. They each carry the same purpose: to begin the story and to introduce the antagonist. But along the way, what they also do is “invent” and tell us an awful lot about the narrators themselves. And that’s where I’d like to focus our attention.
So please take a minute to consider each…and this’ll work all the better if you’re willing to read each excerpt aloud…
Some years ago, after I had facilitated my first Changing Lives Through Literatureprogram, a friend asked me what it was like. I told him, “It’s the Club Med of teaching.” Though it sounds jocular, this response is accurate: CLTL involves everything I love about teaching and frees me from everything I dislike.
Thanks to the labors of the PO’s I have been fortunate to work with, I am spared all the grisly and nitty-gritty–though important–elements of running the program. Over the years, Dan Harrington at the Woburn Court and Judy Lawler and Debbie Cerundulo in the Chelsea Court chose probationers who committed to the program, they took attendance and followed up on absentees, they noted whether the participants were doing the reading, and they handled the only discipline problem that ever arose. They left me free to do what I love best: choose the literature and facilitate the discussions.
1975. Brookline Municipal Court, MA. Juvenile session. Late afternoon. Veteran street worker Dave Wizansky approaches a recently appointed probation officer. “Ron, I think this new judge is really going to make a difference. He approaches the cases in a very different way. Did you notice how he always addressees the juvenile directly? That rarely happens. These kids are used to being talked about, or at, or around. They are not used to be talked ‘to’. And that is what Judge Shubow does.”
1995. Henderson House, Weston, MA. A meeting of judges, probations officers, and educators involved in or supporting Changing Lives Through Literature. Each participant is asked to offer a reflection on the program and its power. A probation administrator mentions how empowering it is for probationers to sit with judges and educators and get treated as equals at the discussion table.
2005. University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA. A graduate class in criminal justice. A judge and staff from Ayer District Court discuss the workings of their drug court. The probation officer coordinating the program suggests that the attention from the judge and the heart-to-heart communications that take place each week between judge and drug court participant account for much of the program’s effectiveness.
Each of these vignettes strikes a common theme and illustrates a basic truth about the latent–and commonly overlooked–power of relationships in the administration of justice. In these examples, the relationship implicated is that between the “judger” and the “judged.”
What is it about reading that makes it significant? Does it really matter what we read and how we read? And what do we mean by “reading” anyway?
It is not quite true to say that we are what we read, but reading is always a social process, even when we read alone. It is an activity allowing us to find ourselves through a common language, a set of symbols set before us by other human beings. When we read, we bring ourselves, our language, our voice to the black marks and white spaces on the page, wrestle meaning from them, and recontextualize ourselves in relation to them.
This is why reading is not mere entertainment, at least not the kind of “deep reading” we have in mind. And this is why we celebrate literature – stories, novels, poems, plays – in Changing Lives Through Literatureprograms. As the ancient poets insisted, literature can delight us and teach us; literature is not mere entertainment because it demands through its language both the exercise of our body and our mind.
Walk into any bookstore. Thousands of books, all neatly arranged by category–cooking, fiction, history, music, sports, computers, health–line the bookshelves.
Look around the store. Usually, a handful of patrons browse quietly among the rows of books. A few curious customers request information at the service counter. Now look into the café area. There’s the crowd. Mostly, kids who look like they’re reading a book or studying fill the place. If we look closely, we see them surreptitiously eyeing other kids who look like they’re reading a book or studying. Some old-timers, lonely in their coffee and book or magazine, seem engrossed–until we notice them peeping over their pages at all the kids scoping each other out.
Stand at the bookstore’s checkout counter. Folks buy more calendars, t-shirts, cds, greeting cards, mugs, or any of the myriad doodads bookstores stock than books.
So who’s buying those thousands of books; who’s reading them? Do I sound skeptical?