Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Trading places

I've asked my freshman composition students to read the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts report To Read or Not to Read, which is filled with thought-provoking bits of detail about the fate of reading in contemporary American culture. Here's an example, presented in the report without explication (the analysis that follows is mine):

[Click for a larger view.]
Notice how categories trade places over eleven years. The reading level of the 1992 high-school graduate (268) becomes that of the 2003 high-school graduate who has completed a post-high-school course of study (268). The reading level of the 1992 student with a two-year degree (306) becomes roughly that of the 2003 student with a four-year degree (314). And the reading level of the 1992 college graduate (325) is virtually the same as that of the 2003 college graduate who's had some graduate study (327).

These numbers suggest that acquiring genuine readerly competence is increasing a do-it-yourself matter: simply going to school, whether it's high school or college, guarantees less and less. For the prose literacy test cited above, proficiency equals a score of 340 or higher (out of 500). Thus by 2003, even students with graduate study were falling short as proficient readers.

That's why I'm asking my comp students to read words, words, words (and the occasional chart).

comments: 1

Slywy said...

At work, all I hear is "too much copy," as though words were a Very Bad Thing. It's a pervasive attitude, and now I see as many adults on the bus reading graphic novels as are reading a book. We've been conditioned to think blocks of print are scary. And our ability to think critically has gone down the same hill.