Why Americans suck at reading

Reading while walkingAmericans are bad at reading. If this is controversial to you, it’s not because the facts are on your side. We stink at poking holes in arguments and we can’t explain metaphors very well.

A common culprit for our declining reading abilities is the web. It makes us more distracted and less able to focus on a single argument.

But what if this is missing a bigger, more obvious truth? It’s all summarized in this recent article in the NYT.

What’s interesting about this piece is the recommended solution. Before this, I would’ve figured the best way to get Americans to read better is to get them to read more, full stop. And while that’s not incorrect, it’s not exactly correct, either.

The true breakdown in reading comprehension (and thus enjoyment/effectiveness) starts with limited knowledge of facts:

Students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test. One experiment tested 11th graders’ general knowledge with questions from science (“pneumonia affects which part of the body?”), history (“which American president resigned because of the Watergate scandal?”), as well as the arts, civics, geography, athletics and literature. Scores on this general knowledge test were highly associated with reading test scores.

Read the article then let me know what you think.

Image courtesy vonderauvisuals; used under Creative Commons.