Read, Dammit!

Everybody believes that teens should be reading. The kids have other ideas.


CP: We all seem to be in agreement for the most part that kids are still reading, and that publishers and bookstores are making available lots of books that are relevant to kids' lives today. But we still seem to be skirting the issue of kids who continue to be resistant to the whole idea of books and reading. Personal experience and statistics would seem to indicate that there are still a whole lot of kids who aren't reading.

Hans Skott-Myhre: I want to say that I think the fact that we all seem to get so excited at the notion that kids are reading is an indication of a crisis in and of itself. Kids reading should be the norm, not the exception.

Terry Colon


Palmquist: I should also mention that in my school library classes 25 years ago we were having discussions about how excited we were about the fact that kids were still reading, so this isn't a new phenomenon.


Wynne: This is something I wanted to throw out to the group earlier. What I heard is that our kids are reading more. But my question would be, is it just a certain group of kids that is reading more? Because if we take stock in the basic skills test in terms of literacy, those scores would certainly indicate that our kids are not reading more. So I think we need to get real here about what group we are talking about. And if there is this group out there that isn't reading, what can we do to help get them hooked up?


Thompson: The one thing they don't teach in the educational institute is that spin doctoring [to] create the interest that needs to be there. If might be as simple as, "This is a banned book; people don't think you should read it." Or, "Yeah, five people died in this book." Really? Then they'll read it from cover to cover looking for that.


CP: Will, I'd be interested to know if you run into problems with your friends trying to get them to read books.


Bellaimey: We have some neighbors--their whole world was a screen, whether it was the computer, the TV, or whatever game system they have. And they never read a book. But then, this is the interesting phenomenon, they got pulled into the "Oh, I loved the movie. Maybe I'll try the book." And that is not going to work for everyone, but it is something I think we're seeing more of now. With more and more books that are linked to other types of media, like movies and TV shows and whatever, that is a way to get kids to read.


Harris: I was happy to see Will here when I came in. I thought, "Oh damn, we got a youth focus group and we actually have a youth here."


CP: We made sure it was just a token though.


Harris: Will could be a 30-year-old white male and there might be no difference in what he is saying. But if we want to know why kids do or don't read, we should have them here doing these kinds of roundtable discussions and focus groups. And they're all not going to look like Will or talk like Will or come across like Will. But if you really want to know what they're thinking, that's the best way I can think of.

Some kids tell me that they do read, and then I have a great majority, like 80 percent, who are either silent to the question or admit, "I don't read at all. I got a TV, I got video, I got a game, and I'm going to do all of that." I know we implied that people go on the Internet to read. Well, I know people who go online to get sports stats. I know people that go on there to get pictures and download the movie stars and rap artists. But as far as going online to research an idea or concept or document, I don't see that. That would be an interesting conversation to have, about that group of people; not the ones who are reading or not all the ones who look like Will--and, I got love for you, man.


CP: Is this something where we just have to throw up our hands or is there a way for people in your fields to reach those people?


Wynne: I think that we live in a time where kids really don't read, and we in education have not taught them to be creative--how to read a book. You read a book: You need to visualize, you need to create the story. Everything today is boom boom boom. So it really requires a great deal of effort, and certainly skills and tools, for someone who is reading to visibly understand and create. And that's a lot of work. And I just wonder what that means for the society in which we live, where everything is spelled out; they leave nothing to be created.


Harris: You know, Spielberg said, in Time, when they were asking him what makes DreamWorks so different--he said that other people have been making movies inspired by dreams. We're going to produce dreams. That's not just a play on words. If your dreams are produced for you, we're talking about imagineering. We are talking about people taking away your capacity to imagine. So when you don't have that, and you have a bunch of words that look like bugs on a page that you have to make sense of, when you can just press a button and get your visual right now, I don't know what that does. I don't know how you combat that or challenge that.

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