October 26th: America’s Literacy Report Card

Reading is more accessible today than at any other point in human history. Books are produced more easily than ever, magazines seem to be everywhere. New media like blogging and digital publishing have made information easier to transmit and new technologies like tablets and e-readers make that information easier to access. Everywhere you look, there are access points to literature, news, academic writing, and more, at any place, at any time.

The Pew Research Center took a look at reading habits of Americans and discovered that, while the format and accessibility continuously changes and adapts, the amount of reading done by the average citizen is remaining fairly constant. Reading on tablets and cell phones is on the rise, while dedicated e-readers aren’t very common and aren’t growing any more so. Maybe most surprisingly, the study found that young adults actually read more often than do their older peers, while millennials are matching the reading behaviors of their parents and older generations.

This is encouraging data for a society that is constantly afraid of the erosion of a culture of learned scholarship. Access to, comfort with, and understanding of literature is, after all, central to the ability for a society to advance in positive directions. Throughout history, there are dozens of examples of places in which our written materials have not only withstood the test of time, but have fundamentally the way we think about who we are and who we hope to be. From religious texts such as the Bible to governing documents like the Constitution to literary fundamentals like Shakespeare, pen to paper has been the way that we, as human beings, have been able to understand ourselves and create something meaningful to drive our existence.

Literacy and a willingness to read lead directly to a comfort in writing. Now, not every participant in a society needs to be responsible for writing the next great text or manifesto, But, a culture that values reading and writing leaves the door open to allow for the constant evaluation and reflection that is inherent to a high-thinking society. As long as we continue to expose ourselves to new and diverse ideas, we remain open to inspiring our own creativity and ability to use language to reflect and, in some cases, change our experience of the world.

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