Today's teen reading rates drop


            The bleak and bookless future depicted in science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 is rapidly becoming an evermore possible one, although not for the reasons author Ray Bradbury predicted. While censorship continues to pose an issue, the more immediate threat to books is people’s declining interest in them. Becoming more and more prevalent with every passing year, the largely unseen epidemic of aliteracy is sweeping the country with the promise of crippling the American culture; for this reason, it demands to be addressed with utmost immediacy and care.

            First recognized by social scientist Dr. Larry Mikulecky in 1987, aliteracy describes a phenomenon whereby persons possessing the requisite skills lack the motivation and desire to read. Afflicting people of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds, aliteracy presents itself indiscriminately. However, it manifests itself most prevalently in adolescents. In recent years, America has witnessed a troubling upwards trend in aliteracy with “a progressive 10% decline in reading each of the past twenty years, representing the loss of 20 million potential readers.” Currently, less than half of all adult Americans report reading literature. What is more, the number of alliterates in America surpasses the number of illiterates-a group that typically merits more concern although both are equally disadvantaged. Therefore the pressing question becomes, why is it perfectly capable readers are losing the desire to engage in reading with alarming regularity.

            By observing and interviewing seventh grade students, Kylene Beers discovered those who are alliterate can be classified into three groups-each having its own reasons for practicing alliteracy. The first category, which Beers labeled dormant readers, is unique in that those who belong to this group typically enjoy reading and view it positively. This type of reader likely engaged in literate activities as a young person such as belonging to a book club or going to the library and at one time, may have practiced reading with avid interest. However, persons belonging to this group claim they currently lack the time to pursue reading actively. Then, there is what Beers’ referred to as uncommitted readers who view the act of reading positively but a t present lack the intrinsic motivation to read. Often, this category of reader claims they someday want to make reading a habit. Lastly, there are unmotivated readers who typically view the act of reading negatively and express no desire to read in the future. Generally, these readers report an inability to engage in the text aesthetically and claim to be unable to relate to the characters or visualize the plot. The three categories of alliterates Beer’s identified are differentiated from habitual or avid readers either by an inability to view reading positively, a lack of intrinsic or personal motivation or a combination there of.

            While dormant, uncommitted and unmotivated readers all have different reasons for abstaining from reading; those who fall into the latter two more severe groups generally tend to suffer from a lack of positive exposure to reading as children. This often results in their in their insufficient motivation to read and feelings of disenfranchisement. The apparent lack of engagement from which these readers suffer may be due to the fact that while teacher’s claim that motivating students to develop healthy, lifelong reading habits is among their top priorities, they often neglect to adequately address the affective or motivational dimensions of reading in their curriculum. The fight to motivate students rages on as educators and policy makers attempt to teach children self-direction in reading. However, with students developing increasing apathetic attitudes, the battle is becoming an ever more difficult one.

   As aforementioned, a person’s perception of or attitude towards reading contributes greatly to whether they will develop into a healthy and habitual reader. Attitude towards reading and beliefs about other pastimes.  Perhaps, this can be seen best in the affect of burgeoning technologies on American reading habits.  With 98 percent of American households owning at least one television and easily just as many owning at least one personal computer, it comes as no great surprise other technologies are rapidly replacing reading as an accepted form of entertainment and information getting.  Instead of picking up a paper, people are flipping through a text books, they are surfing the web.  Instead of reading a book they are turning on the television.  Because information is more easily accessible on an ever expanding number of platforms, the necessity of reading is becoming less and less relevant to society.  Some skeptics question whether Americans’ declining interest in reading really constitutes a crisis or more or less, a phasing out of an obsolete skill.  Does it make a difference “if people choose to read little or nothing in an era when technology can allow people to be informed, be entertained and earn a livelihood with little connection to the printed word,” asked New York Times reporter Gene Maeroff in an article on education.

   In fact, it does the importance of the establishment and practice of healthy reading habits cannot be overstated especially in respect to America’s youth.  In addition to enabling children and young adults to improve and develop necessary language skills, and hand-eye coordination, studies have shown a strong positive correlation between healthy reading habits and personal, social and academic success. Not only is regular reading correlated closely with quality of life, social life voting, political activism, participation in culture and fine arts volunteerism and exercise. But is has also been found the number of books college students read in a given year relates positively to their healthful behaviors including seatbelt use, helmet use and vegetable consumption.  What is more, the same study revealed a negative correlation between the active practice of literacy and high risk behaviors, meaning that those who neglect to read or alliterates are more likely engage in unhealthful and unlawful activities such as binge drinking, drug use and smoking.  More importantly, a similar study indicated the inherent lifelong value of literacy. It showed actively reading for pleasure relieved feelings of lowliness and depression in older persons.  Clearly, reading serves an important role in the human culture, therefore it is critical to confront the growing problem of aliteracy with forceful immediacy.

Due to the widespread and pervasive nature of the problem, aliteracy requires to be addressed on a number of different fronts, the first and foremost being in the home. As aforementioned, sever alliterates tend to lack early, positive experiences with the written word.  Therefore, it is important to ensure children’s first encounters with reading be numerous encouraging.  Parents can help to accomplish this be reading to or with their children on a regular basis, as it has been proven that the amount of time spent on reading in close contact with an adult or any type of interactive reading parallels healthy reading behavior and academic success in later years.  Educations must also assist in the efforts to combat aliteracy.  Severe alliterates who either view reading negatively or do not wish to read have responded well to adapted curriculums which supplement traditional reading programs activities, films and magazines that help to instill a great understanding of selected texts.  Additionally, the enforcement of a Silent Sustained reading program in the classroom has also produced positive results.  Because early encounters with reading may have a profound influence on a person’s lifelong reading habits, it is critical for educators and parents to take all measures to ensure children’s early experiences with the written word serve to foster a comprehensive and positive perception of reading and its importance.

As seen by the apparent correlation between literacy and socially acceptable behavior, reading clearly plays a significant role in establishing and sustaining culture.  Ergo, the evident upwards trend in aliteracy- the troubling phenomenon whereby capable readers opt to abstain from reading – raising a noteworthy concern; what is to become of a culture largely defined by the written words when its participants stops reading altogether.  If parents and educators make a consorts effort, America need never know. By encouraging children and students to read by means of adapted curriculums and regular, interactive lap reading sessions, the effects of this concerning epidemic can be reversed, but that is no cause to allow the problem to become any worse.  Being that the rate of United States Adults reading any type of has declined at an upwards of seven percent this past decade, the evident influence of aliteracy has already become too widespread. Now is the time for change.




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Phil Plasma profile image

Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

Fortunately, my children's parents are avid readers and this is turning them into avid readers also. My kids are yet young (9,6,2) but hopefully they will continue the reading example that we are setting. The 9yo is a voracious reader, hopefully that continues. Great hub earning you both a vote-up and interesting.

Winter Maclen profile image

Winter Maclen 5 years ago from Illinois Author

I have always tried to keep my kids interested in books as well, and it seems to have worked. Now I need to work with the granddaughter. Thanks for the thoughts.

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