Education Opinion

Is Reading a Lost Skill?

By Walt Gardner — July 15, 2015 1 min read
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English teachers are up in arms over the reduced weight given to fiction in the Common Core standards. I understand their concern, but I think there’s a larger issue involved beyond the place of fiction in the curriculum (“Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature,” Commentary, Jul. 1).

If the best case for reading is that students can learn more from it than they can anywhere else, I’m afraid it is not enough of an argument. The fact is that technology is more appealing. I’m not saying that great authors are obsolete. On the contrary, they offer students a unique experience. But there are neurological differences between reading and watching images. In Los Angeles, there are technology addiction treatment programs that claim to help parents deal with the problem because so many children have “technology-addled brains.”

Critics will maintain that I don’t appreciate reading. As a former English teacher, I disagree. It’s just that times have changed since I taught. The Internet was in its nascent state then. As a result, the only visual aid in the classroom was movies. Today’s students have been brought up with smartphones and the like (“Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children, The New York Times, Jul. 7). Identifying with characters and situations in novels, plays and short stories strictly in printed form is hard for them. They’ve simply become too dependent on technology. There are English teachers who are able to design lessons that can compete with the same material presented visually. I take my hat off to them. But I think their task will become harder as the Internet grows stronger (“Here’s How to Battle Your Smartphone Addiction,” Time, Jul. 10).

There is one possible way, however, to counteract the trend. By reading aloud to their children every day starting when they are toddlers, parents can help teachers (“The Great Gift of Reading Aloud,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 11). Long before the electronic media age, parents used to do so. I believe that this ritual primed their children’s ears and minds. As they got older, children could then focus on words as their parents read to them aloud. When I taught English, I often read to my students, stopping periodically to ask them to pick up where I left off. I’m not suggesting that this technique can compete with smartphones, but it can sometimes engage even poor readers.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.