Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Effects of Media and Reading

I go to the market. I see preschoolers sitting in shopping carts hooked into Ipods and other forms of electronics, watching cartoons, listening to music. I go to the doctor’s office. A young teen walks in, sits down and puts on earphones connected to something in her pocket. Another young person walks in, already plugged into his earphones.

According to the New York Times, studies link a drop in test scores to a decline in time spent reading. I am not as concerned about ‘test scores’ as I am about the fact I see electronics everywhere, at the park, at the beach, in airports, on airplanes and in places where a generation ago, people brought books and read.

According to a report based on an analysis of data from about two-dozen studies from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Census Bureau, less than half of all Americans over 18 read. They no longer read novels, short stories, plays or poetry. There is a drop off in reading for pleasure as we progress from elementary to high school. The drop continues even through college. Some continue to read newspapers and magazines. But not enough.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts says, “we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors.” In his 99-page report, Mr. Gioia described the data as “simple, consistent and alarming.”

I’m alarmed. A society that doesn’t read is susceptible to being manipulated by hearsay and propaganda. A society that doesn’t read, doesn’t think as clearly or as analytically as a society that reads and questions. An illiterate society doesn’t know how to gather information and make individual decisions. A society that doesn’t read, loses a valuable part of its culture. Worse, a society that doesn’t read, doesn’t write, doesn’t encourage writers, doesn’t buy books. If we lose our writers, we lose independent thought. We lose individual perspective. We run the risk of losing our intellectual freedom and maybe freedom itself…all for an electronic quick fix.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reaching Out to a Support Community

I write. I like writing. But sometimes writing is a lonely sport. You do it alone, whether it’s sitting at a WiFi internet cafĂ©, on the beach, or in your living room. When I write, I am alone with my thoughts. That is the good news. But it is also an isolating experience. Then the phone rings. It is my friend Dave, 1000 miles away in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. We talk. We connect. He is writing a book, too. “Email? O.K., send me your draft…I’ll give you my thoughts if you want.” Then back to isolation. A half hour later the phone rings. Chuck? Wow! Did you get my email? 2,000 miles in the opposite direction. Upstate New York. Then a flurry of exchange of ideas. I stop to check my inbox. An email from Julie in Chicago. She’s going to Kona in a few months. Got to connect her to Dave. Their two families would love each other.

So, maybe I’m not so isolated. Maybe it just feels like that until I connect to someone with whom I can share my innermost thoughts and feelings. Otherwise, I feel alone.

I used to feel alone, too, as a child…especially on Sunday afternoon. We had a big family lunch every Sunday and then everyone went off to do their own thing. I remember sitting on the porch steps, feeling the time go by. Unscheduled and not knowing what I wanted to do next. Isolated and bored. As an educator, I wonder how many children feel isolated and alone in school? With no avenue to share their thoughts and feelings…and maybe the lunch yard is not the place…I wonder if they feel what I felt on those Sunday afternoons? I wonder if, during their classroom activities or assignments, they feel isolated and alone? I wonder what would happen if, in some part of each school day, teachers had a share time…a time and a place to create a ‘safe place’ where kids go share their innermost thoughts and feelings? Maybe one-on-one with the teacher, or small groups or just with friends. I wonder have many children feel alone during their day, isolated and don’t even recognize that that’s what they are feeling? I just wonder.