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Read a Post for The “Decline” of Reading in America, Poverty and Access to Books, and the use of Comics in Encouraging Reading
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Posted By: mark bauerlein on March 16, 2005
To the Editors:

Since the publication on TCRecord of a summary of Reading at Risk, several articles have appeared in response. Stephen Krashen’s “The Decline of Reading in America” warrants some clarifications.

Professor Krashen states that “Reading at Risk only counted novels (in book form), poetry, and plays as literature, excluding magazines, on-line reading, and graphic novels.” This is not correct. The survey questionnaire asked respondents, “During the last twelve months, did you read any novels or short stories [or poetry or plays]?” Reading them in magazines or on-line would have qualified, as would graphic novels if respondents so desired. It should be noted, too, that the survey tracked book reading of any kind, literary and nonliterary.

Also, Krashen cites a statistic from a 1945 study of reading that showed only a 41 percent literary rate, which, he assumes, means that literary reading has actually increased in the long term. This, too, is incorrect. In that study, researchers found that 71 percent of the population had read a book in the preceding 12 months, and then they asked those readers what kind of book they had read most recently, fiction or nonfiction. Fifty-eight percent (of the original 71 percent) chose fiction, yielding Krashen’s figure of a 41 percent literacy rate for the total population. The incommensurability is obvious. While Reading at Risk asked about the reading of any literary work in a year's time, the earlier study asked only about the book "last read." If one read a novel two months previously, but a cookbook one month previously, one would not fall into the Krashen’s “literary reader” category. Furthermore, poetry and plays were not offered as choices.

Several months ago, when I came across an earlier statement by Professor Krashen that cited the 41 percent figure, we exchanged a cordial set of emails in which I explained the error. It is odd to find it repeated here.


Mark Bauerlein
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 Response from Author by mark bauerlein on March 16, 2005
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