Saturday, December 17, 2005


Dead Literature (Pt II)

There's a fascinating post over on Caleb Crain's blog about a new study of adult literacy. You might recall that last year I laughed, hooted, and jeered in the Village Voice at an NEA study which purported to show "Reading at Risk." And I still find it a laughable piece of work -- particularly given its shaky methodology and the grandstanding assertions made by NEA chair Dana Gioia, which of course the press duly and doltishly repeated.

But this new National Assessment of Adult Literacy by the U.S. Department of Education is worth paying attention to. For one thing, it relies on actual testing rather than deeply suspect self-reporting -- "Unlike indirect measures of literacy," the report notes on page 2, "which rely on self-reports of literacy skills or educational attainment, the assessment measures literacy by asking respondents to demonstrate that they understand the meaning of information found in the texts they are asked to read." For another thing, it measures actual demonstrable reading ability rather than a arbitrary valuing of certain genres. Frankly, I don't really care all that much if novel-reading is in decline: artistic genres are Protean, and so is the consumption of art. But I do care a great deal indeed if people can't understand the Bill of Rights.

Particularly when they occupy the Oval Office.

Anyway. The survey's results? -- mixed, but worth some concern. But because it doesn't have someone braying cultural apocalypse over it, don't expect this study to show up on the media's radar...

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