"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Our People Are Not Reading Our Literature, Part IV

Our People Are Not Reading Our Literature, Part V

To finish our look at the Reading At Risk survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, we look at the summary of trends in literature participation.

Since 1982, the “percentage of U.S. Adult reading literature dropped from 56.4% to 46.7%" in 2002. This is in line with the “downward trend” in literature participation that we have seen in the past decades.

It is important to note that the survey itself states that one cannot “suggest that fewer people are reading literature and now prefer visual and audio entertainment.” Reading at Risk can neither blame television because in 2002, “those who do read and those who do not read literature watched about the same amount of TV per day, which is about three hours worth."

Effect of the Internet

Reading at Risk does point out that the Internet “could have played a role in declining literature participation. As literature participation rates declined, “home Internet use soured.” It is now 2011, but in 2000, the US Census reported that 42% of households had Internet service at home. That was up 26% from 1998. Contrasting this, literature reading rates in 1982 and 1992 were almost identical, but in 2002, they dropped drastically.

The survey also point out that home Internet users have similar profiles to literary readers in that they are likely to be “well educated" (bachelor’s degree or higher). It's worth noting that this is the same age group that who's reading rates “show the greatest percentage drop.”

Rise in Hispanic Population, Decline in Adult Reading, Any connection?

Also in summary, over a 20-year span of the survey's analysis, Hispanics “doubled their share of the total U.S. Population," however, the 2002 SPPA reports that the “literary reading rate for Hispanics was nearly half that of non-Hispanic whites.

Did the growth of the Hispanic population have something to with literary rates dropping among the nation's adult population? Maybe, but the survey also says: “If Hispanic populations were a significant reason for falling rates of literary reading, presumably the SPPA would have reported heavier decreases in literary reading by adults with lower levels of education (given that education levels are lower for Hispanics).” 

On the contrary, the survey report that literary reading fell among all education levels, but adds that the sudden growth of the Hispanic population should prompt arts agencies and policy makers to target Hispanics for programs to raise reading rates.

The survey, on why adult reading rates sank, states that the events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars, may have “hindered literary reading during the survey year.”

The Reading at Risk survey ends by posting these questions:

  • How does literature, particularly serious literary work, compete with the Internet, popular entertainment, and other increased demands on leisure time?
  • How do parents, communities, schools, and the education system respond to illiteracy and aliteracy?
  • Have changes in the ways publishers choose and market books had any effect on literature participation?
  • If education levels are the surest predictor of literature participation, what can be done to increase the reading level by less educated adults?
  • What factors are at work in the decline in reading literary works among people ages 18 to 45? Are losing a generation of readers?

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