Sunday, 21 February 2010

They don't read fiction?

I am still puzzling over an article I came across in the UK Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7250303/Half-of-children-dont-read-fiction.html

According to this only 42% of boys and 48% of girls regularly read fiction. Now I would need to read the actual research to find out more but, assuming the reporter has even the basic figures right, then I am puzzled. Children must be reading.

The report goes on to suggest that children are accessing websites, e-mails, blogs and other social network sites. I am also certain most of them can send a text message on a mobile phone. About a third of children said that reading was 'boring'. Boring?

The article linked to another saying that teenage brains were being 're-wired' by their preference for surfing the net and could have long term negative consequences for the way they learn. What is going on here?

If the research is correct then alarm bells should be ringing. We will have a generation in which a large proportion of people will be unable to read for pleasure and may even be unable to 'read'. They may appear to be able to read but their critical thinking skills will be impaired by a lack of imagination caused by an under exposure to the world of imagination. Anyone who doubts this needs to look at the problems experienced by children who are brought up in cults or rigid religious traditions which do not allow free access to a wide range of ideas. All that has implications for society as wel know it. It will be much easier to manipulate people if their critical thinking skills are reduced. We already have a problem with the manipulation of mass thinking on such issues as climate change, green technology, terrorism etc. Far too many simply believe what they believe they are being told. They cannot critically analyse statements made to and by the media. Failure to read widely and well can only make matters worse.

Fortunately there are still some families where reading is important. This has consequences. In the library yesterday there was a small girl neatly dressed in a sparkling green 'fairy' costume complete with wings and leafy coronet. Someone asked her, "Are you being a fairy?" "No I am not being a fairy. I am a fairy." Sensible answer to a silly question. You can be anything you want to be if you learn to read.

9 comments:

Donna Hosie said...

I'd take this article with a pinch of salt. English is compulsory in British schools, and so the kids must be reading something.

I would hazard a guess that the reason the word "boring" was mooted, is because of the way English is taught in schools. My own English teacher damn near sucked the life out of me with her tedious way of introducing literature.

catdownunder said...

I was going to do the same Donna - until I contacted a friend who lectures at the Institute of Edducation (University of London) and was peripherally involved in the project. I asked her what was this all about and she said that yes, the kids are reading something but it is not fiction. Fiction is, apparently, not necessarily dished up in English lessons any more!
As for your other comment - Judith Wright actually advised me NOT to do English at tertiary level...and I am always glad I took her advice.

Tony said...

I can well believe the figures. It's hard for readers to understand, but many people really don't read outside newspapers and magazines. When I was at school (an independent school in England which finished about 4th in the national league table in the year I finished), we had to do a survey in maths about hobbies. I tried to do one on reading and had to have a re-think as only about 3 or 4 people admitted reading anything...

catdownunder said...

Was it, by any chance, a male dominated establishment Tony?

Donna Hosie said...

Okay, I was so appalled that I contacted several friends, including a head of year at the high school my daughter would have attended had we stayed in the UK, and this article is fundamentally flawed. Between years 7-10, kids study GCSE English, and on the literature reading list are: Of Mice & Men/Pride & Prejudice/To Kill a Mockingbird/Jane Eyre/Lord of the Flies/Great Expectations/Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Short stories are also covered, as is poetry both pre and post WWI. In addition, drama is extensively covered which includes Shakespeare.

Whether the kids enjoy it or not is another matter, but it is being taught. In fact my head of year friend suggested that the biggest complaint he gets is that the literature side is too fiction-centric!

catdownunder said...

Interesting Donna - I have just downloaded the actual research paper but it is 73 pages so it will be a while before I get to it.
It is possible however that they are talking about younger children and out of school (non-compulsory) reading.
And, if that is what is on the reading list, then it is no wonder if many of the students feel alienated - but I still say that it is better than 'reading' a film poster which is (quite literally) one of the things that the local high school had kids doing for English last year.

Tony said...

No, it was a mixed school, and the non-readers were both boys and girls...

andewallscametumblindown said...

I have to admit that I found reading "boring" as a child. What I really meant by that was that I had to read books I wasn't ready for. If I'd been allowed to read Enid Blyton, I might have enjoyed reading. But I had to read "My family and other animals" and "Eagle of the ninth". ~Miriam

catdownunder said...

Reading only Enid Blyton was once described to me as a 'diet of only icecream'. That said I do believe that what is chosen as 'literature' is often quite unsuited to the age and experience of those required to read it. It is cause for concern because, all too often, it means the reader does not read beyond that.