“The Literacy Debate,” NYTimes style

My colleague Cheryl sent me this article, “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” from the Sunday New York Times book section. It figures; I contemplated getting the NYT yesterday too, but decided to try and fix a broken kitchen drawer instead (with some success, I might add).

The story promises to be one part of a series “The future of reading: digital versus print.” That’s just great. What will come next? “The future of sandwiches: peanut butter versus jelly.” Or “The future of music: rock versus roll.”

It’s an interesting and very teachable article as it keeps see-sawing back and forth between the idea that yes, children (of all ages, I guess, because the group they are talking about here are teenagers, mostly) need to read books to become better readers and thus smarter/better people, versus reading stuff online really does count as reading and it is a type of literacy skill that is both different from traditional book reading and that is important to master. To me, they kind of bury on page four the key point: “Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. ‘Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,’ said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. ‘I think they need it all.'”

I realize that there has to be a debate/controversy created to sell some papers here, but the idea that reading is somehow an “either-or” affair is ridiculous. And every time that someone says “the kids today don’t read books like they used to,” I always respond with two words: Harry Potter, a reading phenomenon unlike anything that existed when I was a kid.

Incidentally, the picture in the article of the kids looking at laptops and the parents looking at newspapers/magazines is sort of what it looks like around our household. Only around here, the TV is on too, and all three of us are looking at laptops typically.

2 thoughts on ““The Literacy Debate,” NYTimes style”

  1. As a former Reading Consultant with a degree in secondary education, I have to say that anytime students read and no matter what they are reading. they are learning and interacting with print. Now having said that I complain constantly that my 16 year old daughter doesn’t read enough books, and doesn’t read the kind of books that will make her smart, books like Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice and other ‘classics’. However, just recently she got her ACT scores and her AP English scores back, and guess what? Despite never having read the ‘classics’ nor anything other than books required for school and her own deeply superficial choices (A-List books, and Gossip Girl series), she got excellent scores on both tests. So, there you have it.

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