Sunday, July 27, 2008

Literacy vs. the Internet vs. Books vs. Kids

An interesting article on literacy, the internet, and child/teen readers in the NYTimes today. It's a tricky debate--whether reading online is as beneficial as reading a book, whether it's helping or hindering kids.

Obviously, I think that reading books is vital. But that belief doesn't mean that I think online reading is detrimental. It's different. I found myself a little irked by one quote in the article:
“Learning is not to be found on a printout,” David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, said in a commencement address at Boston College in May. “It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books.”

That seems an extremely elitist position to take. After all, I read this article online. (Okay, yes, I'll be printing it out to save, too.) Lots of learning is acquired from books. But much of the learning I did in college was from xeroxed articles or printouts from online journals. And I'm sure that current students are relying on those means even more than I did. We can read thought-provoking arguments, debates, ideas, stories in any form. We learn if we take the time to digest and mull over them. And if we can talk them over with other people. What the internet hinders is the time to digest and absorb what we read online. It's so easy to click onto the next thing, or to become distracted: it’s your turn in Scrabulous! there’s another interesting article! ooooh, there’s a new post on your favorite blog! a friend is im-ing you! But what the internet helps is finding more people to discuss and debate the ideas with. Ultimately, isn’t the internet a tool, and we can use it how we want to? We can’t really blame it for kids reading or not reading books. It may not be the problem, but how we think of it could be.

It did worry me, though, that the teenage girl in the article said she wanted to major in English and be published someday, but didn't see the point of reading books. The best advice that can be given to aspiring writers is to read, read, read, so they can see how other people are doing it and what works or doesn't work.

This article, too, talked about what kids read during their leisure time, but in the same breath about testing scores. So are they really concerned with the leisure time reading? I mean, I'm a grown-up, avid reader, former English major, and editor, and when I read in my leisure time, it's to be swept away by a story.

Also, I was caught by the line about the internet having no beginning or end. Does that make the internet God?

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