In the Daily Telegraph, about 10 days ago, there was an article by Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust (literacytrust.org.uk), a “charity that transforms lives through literacy”. The first two sentences in the article caught my eye: “Reading for pleasure at the age of 15 is a strong factor in determining future social mobility. Indeed it has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of the child.” This finding is the result of research carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The research examined education and reading as factors in promoting social mobility.
I suppose many parents who read the article would readily agree with this conclusion. Douglas said that the research distinguished between different motivations for reading: whether the reading is the result of parental carrots and sticks, or whether it is entirely voluntary. The research suggested that those who read for their own pleasure have a desire to “engage with stories, texts and learning. Reading for pleasure therefore reveals a predisposition not just to literature, but to the sort of lifelong learning that explains increased social mobility.”
Douglas goes on to talk about different formats for reading. By way of example he points out that emails typically use different language than a written letter. He says, “Analysis so far on the impact of digital literature is that it can play an important role in building core literary skills, but there is an ongoing debate about whether it conveys the same benefits as reading a physical book. Initial research in the Unites States would appear to suggest that it doesn’t.”
Douglas points out that there are differences between boys and girls in terms of their reading for pleasure. “In Britain, girls read more and have more positive attitudes to reading than boys. This is not a universal phenomenon. In India, by contrast, it is the other way around, though that may have more to do with questions of gender and access to society. In Britain, it is about gender and attitude. The reluctance of boys to read for pleasure seems more social than biological.” A recent study by the National Literacy Trust found that reading for pleasure was not something that “boys wanted to be seen doing.”
Douglas argues that reading for pleasure will result only from teenagers having access to books that interest them. “If that means car manuals or books about football for boys, then so be it.”
On the subject of classical vs. modern young adult fiction, Douglas says, “There is a balance to be struck, and this goes to the heart of the current debate about whether a canon of classics needs to be imposed on teenage students in our schools. Some say that this proposal is wrong and the way to get them reading for pleasure is to give them complete freedom to choose. Others say that without a knowledge of the classics, they are being failed by the education system because the will miss out not only on great literature, but also on a vital part of their own cultural identity and heritage.”
What is your view?