Sunday Reading with the Times: A Literacy Debate

Saw this article at the New York Times online this morning, via a tweet by Angela Maiers: Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

A snippet:

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.

Few who believe in the potential of the Web deny the value of books. But they argue that it is unrealistic to expect all children to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Pride and Prejudice” for fun. And those who prefer staring at a television or mashing buttons on a game console, they say, can still benefit from reading on the Internet. In fact, some literacy experts say that online reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for digital-age jobs.

I’m fascinated by the article itself, but it also caused me to wonder about the differences between engaging ”“ and having conversation with ”“ people online versus those who are with you and in the same room: Like in this picture with the article:

NY Times photo

You may want to watch the video clip of this family first, and then read the article to best connect with where I am coming from… the video never shows them talking to each other about all this stuff they are reading!

What do you think about it ”“ both article and ease of conversation/engagement)? Would love to hear your thoughts… there are 99 comments and counting at the NY Times online edition, however the views I am most interested in are yours. I think of our Ho‘ohana Community as largely asking, “Why not enjoy both [books AND online reading]?


  1. says

    The discussion about this is also going on in Germany. More and more people, not only kids, seem to have given up reading. Kids in schools are said to have enormous difficulties in understanding simple texts. And the curricula in the schools more or less stay the same: classical literature. I think that there should be a change in German schools towards creative writing, producing stories and reading them. And my opinion regarding the Internet: The Internet can be many things: games, chatting, a website like this which is based on the written word and the communication about it. Just one last idea: Why not introduce school blogging (we don’t know that in Germany yet)?
    Just my 2cents,

  2. thadeus says

    It is a hard time, right now, for high school and college English teachers. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it’s (and technology in general) changes are happening at such a great rate, that it is difficult to DETERMINE what is most important in terms of ‘literacy,’ much less to be able to effectively TEACH what is most important.
    A recent quote of come across (while reading a book) that I think pertinent is, “The most important function task for any CEO, and for the rest of us, is choosing what to be mindful about.” – Ellen Langer
    I think more time spent with books tends to encourage us to be able to do this better than more time spent on the internet. But this isn’t ALWAYS necessarily so. Some very penetrating and deep insight can come from reading and interacting on certain blogs, forums, etc.
    It will be interesting to see how this topic is viewed 50 or 100 years from now. :)

  3. Rosa Say says

    Ulla, your two cents is worth so much more! perhaps what jumps out most from your comment for me is this: “More and more people, not only kids, seem to have given up reading.” And then when they do read, what is it that captures their attention? Taking the half-full viewpoint, that is a reason I am particularly proud of what we do at Joyful Jubilant Learning, a site specifically aimed at providing better tertiary learning for adult learners.
    You also cause me to think of how much more networking we can still do globally: There are expansive win-win possibilities.

  4. Rosa Say says

    Aloha Thadeus! I believe this is your first comment for me here at Talking Story – welcome! I am returning from travel and some lapses in online connectivity, so I am sorry my response is so late.
    Are you a teacher? I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Angela Maiers at one of her institutes, and you may want to check out her blog as well, for she is passionately addressing the challenges you spoke of: Literacy is quite a hot button for her!
    I quite agree with Ellen Langer: Business leaders have countless opportunities to better influence our thinking in the daily operations of our work-world… but do they exercise that opportunity? Some do, but not as often as would be of greater benefit.
    As you point out, books are but one option, and as with my comment on JJL for Ulla, we bloggers can make a difference too: Blogging is a responsibility, isn’t it. I hope to hear from you more – keep me on track :)

  5. thadeus says

    Thanks for your response and the blog suggestion. I work in institutional research at a community college in Texas. I am involved in a committee focused on helping entering students succeed.
    More that 80% of our students come to us without college level skills in either reading, writing, or math.
    I, myself, am a life-long learner and am hoping to make an impact on the newer generation to help them see classes as opportunities for discovery, rather than obstacles to getting a well-paying job.
    I appreciate your blog, having came across it in the last six months or so. Thanks again for your response!

  6. says

    Oh Thadeus, sincerely delighted we have met! Your work is so, so vitally important. That 80% statistic you shared is alarming, and sadly is evidenced in my own work; speaking, coaching, training, and so it is not surprising. The good news is that we have tons of room and opportunity for improvement, and thus can celebrate our victories along the way!
    As a lifelong learner, I do hope you will find reading and conversation room for too, for our goal there is collaborative tertiary learning done joyously, and I sense you have a wealth of knowledge, heart and spirit to contribute!