Odds & Ends and David Brooks


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted . . . just busy, mostly. I think I’m going to do another fairy tale or two soon, though, before I go back to kids & YA stuff. Busy has to do with the whole full-time job thing, and I’m reading submission after submission for Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Prize. Also trying to get things together for a fund-raiser for the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute, plan an August trip to Israel and just live a life. My brother is doing most of the planning on the Israel trip, fortunately. I just have to plan how to get away.

David Brooks appeared on the Op-ed page of Saturday’s Cincinnati Enquirer with a wonderful piece about the power of books in a world of new media. (I couldn’t find it in the Enquirer online so my link goes to the Seattle Times). Brooks quotes studies that show that kids in homes with 500 books or more stay in school longer and do better, and a new study (to be published later this year in Reading Psychology and quoted in an article in USA Today) by Richard Allington at the University of Tennessee that shows that kids given a dozen books of their own choosing at the end of the school year for three years running had significantly higher reading scores and less “summer slide” than a control group not given books.

He contrasted that with the Vigdor and Ladd study from the Sanford School of Public Policy that showed that among 500k 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina the spread of computers and high-speed internet access was associated with a significant decrease in reading and math scores.

Brooks doesn’t mention this, but Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd discuss their study in the context of whether providing internet access to impoverished households would narrow the educational gap of rich versus poor students, and they found that the opposite was true: it widened the gap!

Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics media use guidelines here.

But Brooks’ argument is more subtle than time allocation, gaming or attention span. He’s looking at identity. Kids who grow up with books, kids who read, identify themselves as readers. “What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities . . .”

He goes on to say “The Internet helps you become well informed–knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends.” And it can help you become “hip.”

But the Literary world is better at helping you “become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import.” And it seems to be better at encouraging a child to identify herself or himself as someone who wants to master significant things of lasting import.

This isn’t a them versus us, Luddites Arise polemic, though. It is a call to look carefully as we go into the future to be certain that we carry with us what is important from the present, a call to find a way to build an internet [counter]culture “that will better attract people to serious learning.”


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