Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Children's Hour

A recent article in the New York Times, "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?," depicts a family portrait in which love of books and onscreen reading divides up along generational lines. In some ways this story just re-emphasizes what Siva Vaidhyanathan has called the "myth of the 'digital generation,'" by depicting the befuddlement of traditionalist parents at the behavior of tech-savvy teens. Although the article pays lipservice to the larger issues of "the future of reading," the article spends more time on what I have called the "ambulance chasing" of ideologue Dana Gioia than it gives to a broader survey of literacy specialists. As a parent and an educator, I'm certainly a fan of "sustained silent reading" of print texts, but I don't think generational trend-spotting or rhetoric about the death of reading does much to build a culture of literacy. And much of the article reads like lazy reporting with little insight to bring to the web-surfing habits that are so superficially observed that the reporter does little more than sprinkle the columns with names of URLs.

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