A New York Times article (Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading) says there is an association between young people reading less and a decline in test scores. It’s based on the report To Read or Not to Read [PDF link] by the National Endowment for the Arts, whose chairman is Dana Gioia. Here’s an excerpt from the NYT piece:

Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.

In an interview Mr. Gioia said that the statistics could not explain why reading had declined, but he pointed to several commonly accepted culprits, including the proliferation of digital diversions on the Internet and other gadgets, and the failure of schools and colleges to develop a culture of daily reading habits. In addition, Mr. Gioia said, “we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors.”

So, what I’m wondering – and this is partly based on past discussions – is what people are really doing instead of “reading for fun”. Surfing the web? Watching TV?

There is an widely-accepted (or at least often stated) assumption that reading is a “smart” activity and is better for you than, say, watching TV or web surfing. I suppose that all depends on what you’re watching and where you’re surfing. I was told time and again while growing up (by teachers, parents, and TV commercials probably sponsored by NEFTA) that reading makes you smarter. This recent NEFTA report seems like some sort of proof. (I’m sure other proof exists out there — I haven’t gone looking. I also suspect there might be contrary evidence as well. Feel free to Google…)

Is reading better for you than watching TV? Does it matter what you watch, or is all casual reading a better activity?

Filed under: BooksTV

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