The counterview to my reading post

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The title to the article is Raising a generation of illiterates
BY Alexander Nazaryan
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012, 3:25 PM

Call me a conservative crank, but I find this frightening: American high school students are reading at a fifth grade level, according to a new report that analyzes the complexity of the works they complete both in the classroom and outside it.

Why so low? Well, the report finds that the most popular book read in high school during the 2010-2011 school year was Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” The top 20 includes three Collins selections (“Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” are #6 and #7, respectively) and two each from Stephenie Meyer (“Twilight” is #9; “Breaking Dawn” is #11) and schlockmeister Nicholas Sparks (“The Last Song” at #5 and “Dear John” at #14). Meanwhile, “The Great Gatsby” clocks in at a pathetic #17. Chaucer, the Bronte sisters, Toni Morrison – these are all nowhere to be found.

We are becoming a nation of illiterates. That is all I can conclude.

Yes, I know that many adults enjoy “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” in their leisure time. So do kids, of course. But the report, “What Kids Are Reading,” is at least partly based on classroom assignments, even though Renaissance Learning, which commissioned the report, did not break down inside/outside classroom reading. Still, it recorded the 2,290,522 books read by 388,963 9-12th graders during the 2010-2011 school year. In purely statistical terms, “The Hunger Games” could not be the most popular high school book in the nation unless a significant number of teachers and school librarians either assigned it or actively, repeatedly encouraged students to read it.

Another surmise: They aren’t reading “The Hunger Games” in China. Or in Finland. Or in any of the other countries that consistently beat us in standardized tests. Fair bet is that they’re reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen and Hurston (or their high-culture equivalents), all of which are on the Common Core standards for high school and yet, by and large, remain ignored in the American classroom, where the intellectual rigors of the fifth grade linger right up until college.

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Eduhonesty: It’s hard to disagree with Alexander Nazaryan. On the other hand, I welcome Alexander to try to teach my classes. So many students simply aren’t reading. We are still passing them on, and I freely confess to being part of this problem. If I failed as many as I ought to, based on their knowledge acquisition, I doubt I could keep my job.

Maybe we shouldn’t pass these students who have not mastered the academic language and literacy expectations for their grade. Maybe we should use exit tests to determine who passes. If students can’t read and interpret age appropriate texts, we could retain them until they can pass. That scary experiment might work. The Illinois law that requires students to pass Constitution tests to be promoted to the next grade results in students who will work ferociously to master the Constitution.

I honestly don’t know the answer to this one. I favor giving students genre fiction at their reading level since my experience suggests students will not read books that require a great deal of deciphering. Too much time spent looking up words breaks the flow of the story until they put the book down unfinished, if they ever picked that book up in the first place. Even at my age and with excellent reading skills, I put books down when I get bored.