Reading at Risk: A Forum

Michael Connolly

Mark Bauerlein, ed., Association of Literary Scholars and Critics
Spring 2005

This second issue of Forum by the worthy ALSC (a tradition-minded alternative to the National Association of Scholars) compiles responses to the National Endowment for the Arts' study Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. That important study (released July 2004, see here) found a startling drop in the percentage of adults who read literature (down from 56.9 percent in 1982 to 46.7 percent in 2002, a loss of 20 million potential readers). The steepest decline occurred in young adults (59.8 percent to 42.8 percent). Adults qualified as readers simply by reading one novel, short story, play, or poem within the last year - yet more than half of America didn't qualify! Exploring some of the causes of this decline, various essayists blame the digital age for making information a mile wide and an inch deep, with studies showing that people just scan stories and pick out important details, and lack the ability to dissect complex stories and arguments. Schools also take some blame for failing to properly teach reading skills and important works of literature. Scholars from myriad universities jam this publication with distressing anecdotes from their time in teaching and insightful analyses into this literary problem. The publication breaks no new ground, really, but is worth reading simply for the chance to listen in on some wonderful writers and thinkers taking up serious issues of literature, culture, and pedagogy. You can order the study from the ALSC website here.

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