Remarkable report on reading

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Congratulations, readers. You, your family and your community benefit because you read. That’s a brief summary of one of the most important, stunning reports I’ve seen in a long time: “To Read or Not to Read,” just issued by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Brief summaries as well as the full report are available here. PLEASE consider reading this report (or a summary of it) before making holiday plans and purchases.

NEH documents that people who read well

* Are 2.5 times more likely to earn $850 are more per week
* Have much wider job prospects
* Are much less likely to be in prison (56% of prisoners read at the basic level or below.)
* Are much more likely to vote, volunteer, attend plays, concerts, sports activities and even exercise
* Reduce costs for employers. (Large corporate employers report spending $3.1 million on remedial reading for employees; state governments report spending $221 million)

However, the average 15-34 read old reads for pleasure less than 10 minutes a day, while spending more than 2 hours per day watching TV. As Dania Gioia, Chairman of the federally (i.e. taxpayer) funded NEH explains

“There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. The declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications. Across a vast array of groups, reading skills are declining. “

Gioia believes that the report “gathers and collates the best national data available to provide a reliable and comprehensive overview of American reading today…To our knowledge, ‘To Read or Not To Read” is the most complete and up-to-date report of the nation’s reading trends and—perhaps most important—their considerable consequences.”

He continues, “The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years.”

Because this report is so important for every Minnesota family and community, I’ll write more about it this fall – with comments, reactions and suggestions from others. This report is not a call to return to some idyllic past. But as it notes, “If, at the current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks. … It is no longer reasonable to debate whether the problem exists. It is now time to become more committed to solving it or face the consequences. The nation needs to focus more attention and resources on an activity both fundamental and irreplaceable for democracy.”

Here are two small places to start – what does this report mean for the kinds of presents we’ll give each other in the next month? What might it suggest for the way families spend time together over the holidays?

More to come – and reactions welcome.

Joe Nathan, a father of 3, directs the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute