Being a bookhead I enjoy promoting reading to students and others I meet. I understand in today’s world there are many things that pull people’s time from reading. Sometimes it seems like a battle to convince students they need to make reading a priority. One recent book I finished gave me a disconcerting feeling about the state to reading in society. As I read the book by author Mark Bauerlein, a Professor of English at Emory University, I knew he is so right, even though I wish he wasn’t.
The book is The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. The author presents the case of how the decline in reading is detrimental to our youth and maybe the future of our country. Many studies are presented that reveal the decline of reading in all age groups in America with a special focus on the youth population. The hardest part for me was the statements listed by educators saying it is ok that the youth are not enjoying reading but rather mindlessly texting, playing videos, and absorbed in Facebook. He mentions at one of his presentations on his research on Reading at Risk, a Professor of Renaissance Literature spoke out, “I don’t care if everybody stops reading Literature. Yeah, it’s my bread and butter, but cultures change. People do different things.” (page 60). How can an educated person say such a thing??! Reading is so important in developing the mind and thinking skills. A Literature Professor should be helping encourage students to read instead of encouraging mindless activities that take the place of reading.
I highly recommend the book even though I mentioned it gave me an uneasy feeling. It is sad to know the importance of reading in the development of the mind and read of the research that shows young people spend so little time reading and often say it is boring. Yes it can seem boring when compared to the sights and sounds of YouTube videos and video games. If they could only see how reading fiction stories can tap into the creative part of the mind as you imagine the scenes being described on the pages.
I am not the type to say people should stay away for the internet or computer games. There are many fine features to these tools for self improvement of the mind. But reading should be held up as an enjoyable and important way to grow our minds.
In reading The Dumbest Generation I wish the author would have spent more time in providing ideas to counter this trend. The text can come across as too cynical but others would say he is just realistic. My understanding of the book is he is clearly trying to present the case of what the decline of reading is doing to lower test scores, quality of life in the country and eventually the decline of our civilization. So the author is probably leaving it up to Bookheads to brainstorm ideas to promote the importance of reading.
During my near ten years of working with University students I have seen what Professor Bauerlein in saying. It is a rarity to see students reading on campus or before class. When I was in college I would use my spare time to read. In my Divinity School for my first Masters one Professor encouraged us to read a non-class book once a month. Or course I was and am a bookhead so it would be more natural for me to be reading. Also back then you did not have a laptop always so as to surf mindless information on the internet. I say mindless not to say all the internet is mindless there are educational elements to websites. But for example go to the Youtube homepage. Are there usually any videos that promote culture and higher values? No they are usually mind numbing wastes of time. As today in the news they mentioned a video going “Viral “ of a newswoman being hit in the head by a soccer ball. That is uplifting? Positive? A good use of computer viewing time? No! Case closed!
One positive change idea he brings up in found in this passage of the book, “Young people need mentors not to go with the youth flow, but to stand staunchly against it, to represent something smarter and finer than the cacophony of social life. They don’t need more pop culture and youth perspectives in the classroom. They get enough of those on their own. Young Americans need someone somewhere in their lives to reveal to them bigger and better stories than the sagas of summer parties and dormitory diversions and Facebook sites.” (page 199) We need to have those of us who enjoy reading and know of its importance to better our lives to promote the cause. I would love to see Professor Bauerlein write another book Changing the Dumbest Generation to the Best Generation using practical ideas on how we can stem the tide in reading.
As I stated I have seen what the Professor is speaking of in my interaction with students as a career counselor and teacher of a freshman success class. Usually the students I see that are excelling are the few that I will see with a fiction book or they mention they enjoy reading , I know this is just anecdotal evidence from my observations. Matter of fact ,that would be a useful research project. Do research on students on both extremes of the academic spectrum; those who excel in their classes and those who do poorly in college, and compare their reading habits. I would assume those who do well would have higher scoring of interest in reading.
I am thankful as I stated before my mother saw the importance of reading in having me be involved with reading clubs at our city library when I was in elementary school. That helped shape me as a bookhead early on.
Here are a few websites that help promote reading:
Do you take time in your schedule for reading? Reflect over why reading is important to you? Think over how you can promote reading to those around you.