I stopped going to Medium regularly a long time ago. I had the impression that there was quite a lot of click bait there and it seemed like many contributors were simply using the hype around the platform to advertise their primary blogging sites. I kept my email subscription to weekly top stories summary, and from time to time a headline catches my interest and I click through. I’m usually disappointed.
Today was different. Today’s email included a piece entitled “Book Culture: Why required reading is hurting America.” It was listed as a 3-minute read. I clicked, but I wasn’t just disappointed, I was annoyed.
I’m not going to link to this piece; I don’t want this opinion piece to waste your 3 minutes, like it wasted mine.
Lets zoom out to take a look at the big picture again: Required reading > dislike of reading > lack of reading > lack of critical thinking, knowledge > groupthink and mental laziness > degeneration of America.
That quote sums up the entire article. The problem is the author cites only four facts to back up his argument:
- Teachers require students to read in school.
- 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80% of households have not bought a book in the past year.
- 70% of people have not gone to a book store in the past five years.
While the first is arguably common knowledge, the author cites no sources for the statistics he presents. Then from these meager facts he concludes that required reading in school makes kids dislike reading, and then confounds this with the assertion that required reading in school is the reason that people don’t read books. The problem is that he fails to demonstrate any evidence for such a causal relationship. It’s all opinion, yet he never seems to realize as much.
Likewise, I could argue that people like watching TV or playing games more than reading. After all our brains are wired for being attracted to and for processing moving pictures. Our brains didn’t evolve to be able to read; reading came later. Reading is harder than watching TV since it requires more concentration. More concentration means we use more calories. Evolution has wired us to conserve energy by being lazy, so perhaps even if students were never required to read, they’d still dislike reading.
What if on the other hand it was required reading at school that introduced some children to reading who would never otherwise have cracked open the cover of a book? What if required reading at school actually coverts a few of these children into regular readers? Perhaps, without required reading even fewer kids would read books after school. Without required reading maybe less than 42% of college graduates would read another book after college.
Or maybe it’s not the fact of requiring reading that turns some kids off; maybe it’s the choice of what reading is being required.
I haven’t done any research to support my thesis, but hey, this is the Internet. My thesis is just as valid as that of the article I read, which is to say, it’s meaningless. It’s conjecture. It’s speculation. It’s nothing but hot air, and who gives a care?
The author goes on to say “Reading is a cure for stupidity,” but all his reading hasn’t seemed to have helped him one whit. He doesn’t even seem to realize there’s anything wrong with his post.
Yesterday I made a little picture to hang in my office, a great quote from a great writer. I didn’t intend to post it, but if it stops just one person from wasting people’s time filling the Internet with even one more bit of vacuous crap it’s worth it.
Watch the video here.
Thanks, Mr. Ellison. No one says it better than you did.