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American Teens Should Read More Nonfiction

Dana Goldstein posted a great, short article over at The Daily Beast about what American teenagers are reading (or, as the case...

Dana Goldstein posted a great, short article over at The Daily Beast about what American teenagers are reading (or, as the case may be, aren't reading). The answer, which apparently covers kids from 7th to 12th grades: Harry Potter and Twilight.

And it's not the wizards, vampires, and werewolves themselves that are contributing the plateau in reading proficiency scores over the past few years, which was reported last week. Rather, it's because they're not gathering a significant knowledge base to bring to reading-a consequence of the fact that these youngsters are focusing solely on fiction, prioritizing narratives over informational material, such as newspapers, and biographies (which are really the best of both worlds). And that, according a University of Virginia cognitive psychologist that Goldstein interviews, makes them bad readers.

Goldstein notes that the common standards recently drafted by the National Governors Association (NGA), which we've previously discussed on this blog, could help in addressing the fiction vs. nonfiction problem:

The NGA recommends that 11th-graders read George Orwell's classic essay "Politics and the English Language"-not just Animal Farm or 1984. Authors like Gogol, Ionesco, Austen, and Fitzgerald are mainstays of the NGA standards, though their books and plays are not among the top 10 works now read by students at any grade level.


Contemporary writers such as Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri are also included, as are historical presidential addresses and even works of journalism, including Atul Gawande's New Yorker feature from last year, "The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas," which played a major role in the health-care reform debate.


If the kids get off on the horror of wizards and vampires, just wait until the nightmares they'll have after they realize how many unnecessary medical consults or procedures are performed in the U.S. each year.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user rachellake.

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