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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Read Any Good Books Lately?

As of 2003 less than one-third of college graduates could read prose at a proficient level, down from 41 percent in 1992, according to a report published Nov. 19 by the National Endowment for the Arts. Although more educated, even graduate students are suffering the same fate. In 1992 approximately 51 percent of the post-graduate population were proficient readers; today, that number has fallen to an even less-impressive 41 percent. From grade-schoolers to senior citizens, the rates and levels at which Americans are reading are on the decline.

The findings in “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence” are nothing short of shocking. Using data collected by national bodies such as the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as institutions of higher learning including UCLA and the University of Michigan, the NEA compiled dozens of statistical reports that paint a decidedly grim picture of the present and future.

“The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming,” Dana Gioia, Chairman for the NEA, wrote in the report. “Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years.”

But do poor reading habits really affect the lives of those outside the world of academia? According to Gioia and the NEA: Absolutely.

“This is a massive social problem,” Gioia said in a phone interview with the Boston Globe. “We are losing the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything close to their potential because of poor reading.”

Nearly 20 percent of American workers read at a level lower than what their job requires, a startling figure when one considers the vast number of, and variance in, careers and jobs across the nation. Those with less-than-adequate reading skills generally make less money and are far less likely to hold managerial positions. Even going beyond the workplace, poor reading skills consistently correlate with how active one is in his or her community and social life, regardless of socioeconomic status, Gioia said.

“The poorest Americans who read did twice as much volunteering and charity work as the richest who did not read. The habit of regular reading awakens something inside a person that makes him or her take their own life more seriously and at the same time develops the sense that other people’s lives are real.”

Perhaps just as important as the effects on the lives of individuals who possess poor reading skills are the effects on the nation in an increasingly global economy. In a study published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2004, the United States ranked only 15 out of 31 nations in a test of average reading scores of 15-year-olds. Trailing far behind countries such as Finland, Korea and Canada, the United States boasted scores that were little better than mediocre.

Results like this no longer make it a debate as to whether the United States is in dire need of improvement, Gioia wrote. In order for America to continue to prosper, they must act now.

“It is now time to become more committed to solving [the problem] or face the consequences. The nation needs to focus more attention and resources on an activity both fundamental and irreplaceable for democracy.”