A recent Associated Press Poll (1) of 1,003 American adults asked, "Have you read any books in the past year?" An amazing 27% said not a one.
Even more alarming, of the literate 73%, only 64% had read the Bible or other religious text (44% of the respondents were Protestant and 27% Catholic (2) which means well over half of American adults did not turn to Scripture during an entire year.
The fact that one in four American adults claim not to have read a single book made banner headlines across the globe, including mother Russia's own PRAVDA. (3) The much copied AP story opines, "the survey reveals a nation whose book readers on the whole can hardly be considered ravenous." Curiously, it doesn't mention how newspaper readership is dropping quicker than Rex Grossman taking a snap from center. On October 31, 2006 The Washington Post reported newspaper circulation nationwide has been sliding since 1987 and dropped 2.8% from the comparable period the year before; the LA Times led the pack by dropping a whopping 9%.
If you have any doubt how thin the ranks of readers are, I challenge you to take a commuter train downtown; walk through the cars and count how few people pass their time with either a book or newspaper. Cell phones, laptops, and every sort of music making electronics abound, but nary a dog-eared tome in sight.
I am proud to report that my children are all insatiable readers. In fact, I call my daughter Corrina--now a college teacher--a book devourer because of how fast she reads.
To what do I attribute their love of the printed word? Certainly not to twelve years of public schooling--their education was also deficient in history, English and geography. However, all four have excellent self-esteem and know how to celebrate Kwanzaa. Unlike the "good old days" when we were assigned lists of books which MUST be read over the summer--lest ye incur the wrath of a nun who was only slightly bigger and stronger than Brian Urlacher--not a one brought home so much as a list of suggested reading.
No, my children are excellent readers for two reasons. The first is the example my wife and I set by reading to, then with, them. The Little House on the Prairie series was an early family favorite and now even my Mom is reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels.
Second, they were required to not only read books, but to share their newly acquired knowledge as well. Every night at dinner--including during summer vacation--I asked each in turn, "What did you learn today?"
Some nights, despite spending an entire day in the classroom, four blank faces stared back at me. It would take subtle prodding--"whoever didn't learn anything today does dishes all by themselves"--to motivate the gray matter. Then the learning pours out.
"J. Frank Dureyea won America's first automobile race on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895 when he drove 52 miles from Jackson Park in Chicago to Waukegan in only 10 hours and 23 minutes."
"The legal avoirdupois weight as fixed by the U.S. government for a single bushel of potatoes is sixty pounds, except for North Carolina and West Virginia where it is only fifty-six pounds."
Why? I don't know. Maybe I'll learn the reason tomorrow. All I know is they had to not only make the effort to learn something, but to remember it until dinner time as well.
Even though my children are now adults, it is rare to see them without a book because good habits last a lifetime.
So, what can you do to give your kids a competitive advantage in life? Simple, you must get involved. If you hook 'em on reading while they're young, they will be readers all their lives.
Pay a visit to your child's school and examine their curriculum. If your child does not have a class devoted to reading, demand to know why not. Hold them accountable--you are paying their salaries, either through taxes or tuition. That means they work for you. Do not settle for mediocre.
Learn what programs are available for parents who do not want their children to be left behind. Then take advantage of them. Two great resources are Reading Is Fundamental, the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit children's literacy organization, whose mission is to "ensure that every child believes in the value of books and the importance of reading," and Readers Are Leaders. Their name is not just a slogan. They are a foundation whose goal is getting children interested and excited about reading. (4)
I found an article titled, "Be Excellent, Readers are Leaders" which quoted a survey of American business people that found executives at Fortune 1000 companies read 6.7 books per year while the average respondent read but 7/10 of one book every three years!
It seems pretty obvious: The more you read, the more you succeed. If you don't believe me, I will close with two examples of two avid readers who achieved their dreams.
While touring Ronald Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois, the docent showed us a small table with four chairs around it. She explained that during the darkest days of the great depression Nelle Reagan would place a single lighted oil lamp at the center of that table and the family would sit around it and read--often the Bible. During his presidency, Reagan was known as the Great Communicator. A coincidence? I don't think so.
Finally, I'm re-reading Veeck as in Wreck, the autobiography of Bill Veeck, baseball's PT Barnum and twice owner of the Chicago White Sox. (5) In Bob Verdi's foreword he states, "Call him a voracious reader and you would be correct. Call him a voracious thinker and you would truly define him."
Veeck had a lifelong love affair with knowledge and he knew the best way to acquire it was through reading. We can only pray that our children's children make this same discovery, lest we become a nation who only knows that which they Google.
(1) The poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, project #81-5681-13, on August 6-8, 2007, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 for all adults.
(2) 38% of the respondents described themselves as "born-again or Evangelical Christians."
(3) PRAVDA On-line claims to "continue the history of the newspaper that was closed by then-President Boris Yeltsin in August of 1991."
(5) Bill Veeck is the consummate showman who gave us baseball's first midget--3'7" Eddie Gaedel, the exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park, the ivy at Wrigley field, and Disco Demolition Night.
Dan Gura is a contributing editor to RFFM.org.