Those of you who are reading this may well consider yourselves part of a new minority in America…
There is a good deal of bad news about the dying art of reading for pleasure. This month the PEW Research Center reluctantly admitted that a quarter of American adults failed to read a single book last year – that they had not cracked a book or turned on a Kindle for pleasure at all in the last 12 months. While this is incredibly bad news, let me put this into perspective for you, and explain how bad it really is. I believe that PEW (like so many American data processing institutions) is basically regulated by greater governmental powers. Their job is to polish and grind the truth until it’s palatable (remember they are controlled by the administration that somehow managed to have an unyielding unemployment rate fall two whole points just forty-eight hours before election day in 2012.) If PEW has to admit that a quarter of Americans haven’t read a book in the last year, then you can bet the number is closer to one-third.
Going from bad to worse, there are entire segments of the American population to whom books, in any form, are alien creatures. We have entire cities where the art of reading is as dead as the Dodo Bird, and this disease of the intellect is growing, not declining. The number of people who do not read books has tripled since 1978 (taken from our reluctant PEW people’s report – and this even includes audio books). The problem is exasperated by the fact that the fastest growing segments of our population, i.e. Middle Eastern immigrants and African Americans are at the bottom of the reading for pleasure (or reading for anything) scale. We are rapidly creating a new class of Americans who have no interest in the written word, other than being able to sign their names on their welfare checks. Inner city schools put little or no emphasis on reading for pleasure, and the results are obvious. Amazon.com is the Mecca for reading in this country. Its top 100 best-sellers for 2014 were composed almost equally of men and women, but not one of them was written by an African American. That statement silently shouts our dilemma.
Beyond environments that don’t promote an interest in books, the greatest culprit of this “failure to read” scenario is the plethora of digital media platforms. This includes television (generally horrible and mind-numbing), portable phones and perpetual nearly mindless texting (done in a new, simplistic language that insults the intellect and must have Shakespeare rolling over in his grave), and a new sense of what I can only describe as apathetic dispassion for anything that requires effort and can’t be spoon-fed.
I’ll leave you with some facts on illiteracy in America from DoSomething.org, which will give you an idea of our present and future plight:
** Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
** One in four children in America grow up without learning how to read.
**As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
**Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
** 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest two levels of literacy, and 90% of high school dropouts are on welfare.
**Teenage girls between the ages of 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty line and have below average literacy skills are six times more likely to have children out of wedlock than girls their age who can read proficiently.
** Reports show that the rate of low literacy in the United States directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
As a novelist I’m extremely threatened by all this – as an American, I’m terrified.
Michael Reisig has been writing professionally for 15 years. He is an award-winning newspaper columnist and a best-selling novelist. Be sure to check out his latest best seller, Somewhere on the Road to Key West. You can see more of Michael’s work and a short biography at Amazon.com.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com