Friday, January 26, 2007

Underbooked kids

School librarian Thomas Washington's piece in last Sunday's Washington Post made me sad:

I'm a librarian in an independent Washington area school. We're doing all the right things. Our class sizes are small. Most graduating seniors gain admission to their college of choice. The facilities are first-rate.
Yet from my vantage point at the reference desk, something is amiss. The books in the library stacks are gathering dust.

That's happening, of course, because the kids are spending their time on the internet rather than perusing dusty old books. But that doesn't worry anyone but the fuddy-duddy technophobes, right? The rest of us know the internet is an indispensible tool for collecting and sorting information. The internet is good for kids because it teaches them how and where to find out everything they want to know. Right?

Well, sure. But all the knowledge in the world won't improve anyone's quality of life if it's not handled with wisdom and imagination, and that's where novels come in.

Reading quality fiction stimulates my imagination and provokes me to examine and refine my personal values. A good movie can do that, too, but not nearly as well because it doesn't last as long or pull me in as deeply as a book does. The same can be said about certain internet conversations and websites; by themselves, they're just not enough. I need good books.

Mr. Washington continues:

Typically, many people in my line of work no longer have the title of librarian. They are called media and information specialists, or sometimes librarian technologists. The buzzword in the trade is "information literacy," a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books.

Virtually all of the world's store of knowledge can now be accessed by logging on to the internet, and that's wonderful. But well-informed people aren't necessarily wise people. Or creative people. Or compassionate people.

Unless they also read good books.

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Marianne Arkins said...

My DD is seven and homeschooled. She reads at a young adult level (choosing books is TOUGH!) and is voracious. I suspect her reading level is so high BECAUSE she reads so much. She's learning more every day.

Her vocabulary is impressive (she took a nap the other day -- a strange occurance -- and when she got up she told me that she felt "refreshed"...LOL)

BUT... she gets one hour or less TV daily (this week she's watched none) and only gets computer time once a week.

We play board games, do puzzles and she reads. She loves it. It's such a big part of youth, I think, and it's a shame that so many kids are missing out.

I could go on and on, but I won't. You've said it quite well.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I always loved to read. Maybe because my mother read to us lots when we were little. :) Brittanie

RoseMary said...

I agree that television and the internet is taking away valuable time that would be better spent reading. I too, homeschooled both of our girls--now a junior and senior in college. They are both amazed at the literary 'ignorance' of so many of their classmates. Public schools had better 'wake up'.

Kristin said...

But what do you do with a child who just doesn't seem to have the interest to *finish* books? My daughter has always been more interested in interacting with people than watching TV or reading. She has a reading level a couple of grades above where she is now, but you know how many times she's started reading "Charlotte's Web" or "The Wizard of Oz" or the Harry Potter books? Not once has she finished them. She will pick up a new book, read that voraciously for about 3 days and then stop halfway through. And I don't know why...

I also don't think it has to do with how much TV you watch or don't watch. I was a TV junkie, but read a TON of books in my childhood/teenage years. I remember spending one whole Saturday in 9th grade to read 2/3 of "Gone With the Wind." Or the time I was determined to read "The Hobbit" (I was 9 at the time).

I think part of the problem lies with the parents. I know plenty of parents who don't read themselves. Children mimic their parents, and if mom and dad are spending their evenings reading email or talking on cell phones or whatnot, then that is what they will mimic.

Just my two cents....

Rashenbo said...

Great topic. I do wonder what will happen to libraries and more and more kids turn to the internet for research and learning.

Elle Fredrix said...

I think Kristin nailed it. Much of the onus lies with parents.

My parents shared with my bothers and I the the love of books, and the joy of reading. That is one of the greatest gifts they gave us, IMO.

That gift has been passed on to the next generation.

Carolyne said...

I just want to add a few things to your excellent post - You can't curl up on a comfy couch with a computer, even if it is a laptop. You can't nurse a baby and surf the net. Books can be held in your hand, you can feel them, smell them, be involved. Books are friends that you can put on shelves and run your fingers over, wondering which adventure you want to dive into at the moment. A computer is a tool. That's all. Books are friends.
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Brenda Coulter said...

You said it, Carolyne.

But what do you do with a child who just doesn't seem to have the interest to *finish* books?

Kristin, a kid with a short attention span isn't going to finish a Harry Potter book. Until your daughter gets past this hump, you might look for really short books that she can finish in a couple of sittings. Also, try some "series" books. Knowing the characters will be the same in every book can be a comfort to young readers and keep their minds on the stories.

Everyone else, thanks for chiming in.