Only 47 percent of American adults read "literature" (poems, plays, narrative fiction) in 2002, a drop of seven points from a decade earlier. Those reading any book at all in 2002 fell to 57 percent, down from 61 percent.
NEA chairman Dana Gioia, himself a poet, called the findings shocking and a reason for grave concern.
"We have a lot of functionally literate people who are no longer engaged readers," Gioia said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This isn't a case of 'Johnny Can't Read,' but 'Johnny Won't Read.'"
The likely culprits, according to the report: television, movies and the internet.
Only 38 percent of adult men and 26.5 percent of Hispanics overall say they read literature. Reading declined among all groups, but fell the most in the youngest group surveyed, those 18 to 24 years old. Only 43 percent had read any literature in 2002.
Comics creator Stan Lee said on the Mike Douglas Show that he wrote his books with college-level vocabulary. “If a kid doesn't know a word and has to look it up in the dictionary, what's wrong with that?"
I know I had my dictionary handy when I was reading Marvel comics. And it came in handy. In 6th grade, I won a spelling bee by spelling the word "grotesque" correctly. I remembered it in an issue of The Incredible Hulk where the green giant battled "The Grotesque Glob." Cool, huh?
...By reading Stan Lee as a kid, I became enamored with words and storytelling. I became an excellent speller. It also sparked my interest in reading things other than comic books, and as a result I now have shelves in my home teeming with books, with everything from science fiction to education to politics and history.
My parents wouldn't let us read comic books when I was a kid. I think they thought comics were too violent. So we went to the drug store and read them in the store, feeling like hardened criminals. I never liked Superman. He had too many powers. And I had to identify with poor, perpetually duped Lois Lane.
By the way, I highly recommend Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is about comic book designers and their heroes. Chabon also wrote the screenplay for Spiderman 2.
Rhymes With 'Rap'
Gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur's The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of rhymes he wrote when he was 19, made the summer reading list in Worcester, Mass. It's a collection of misspelled tripe writes columnist Michelle Malkin.
The presumption that children — and particularly inner-city children — can only be stimulated by the contemporary and familiar smacks of lazy elitism and latent racism. These educators, and I use that term as loosely as gangster rappers wear their pants, are clearly more interested in appearing cool than in inculcating a refined literary sense in students . . .
. . . One poem is "Dedicated 2 Me." Another is "Dedicated 2 My Heart." There's one "4 Nelson Mandela" and another "2 Marilyn Monroe," which laments: "They could never understand what u set out 2 do instead they chose 2 ridicule u." Another Shakur opus is titled "When Ure Hero Falls." Still another muses: "What Is It That I [insert pictograph of an eyeball] Search 4."
A dictionary, perhaps?
In riveting prose that presumably rivals Frost or Longfellow, Shakur brags that he is "more than u can handle" and "hotter than the wax from a candle." Edgar Allan Poe had Annabel Lee. Shakur had Renee ("u were the one 2 reach into my heart"), April ("I want 2 c u"), Elizabeth ("the seas of our friendship R calm"), Michelle ("u and I have perfect hearts"), Carmen ("I wanted u more than I wanted me"), Marquita ("u were pure woman 2 me"), Irene ("I knew from the First glance that u would be hard 2 4get"), and Jada.
Le Chien Ne Parle Pas Anglais
At the University of New Brunswick in Canada, a blind man was banned from an English immersion program because he refused to speak to his guide dog in English. The dog was trained to respond to French commands.
. . . it was not enough that (Yvan Tessier) agree to speak to the professors and other students in English; the university insisted that he sign a contract promising that "all communication with your guide dog will be exclusively in English."
The problem for the 39-year-old master's student at Ottawa's Saint Paul University is that Pavot, the black Labrador that has helped him get around for the past two years, was trained to respond to 17 concise French commands. Tell him "Stay!" and he would be lost.
Teaching Pavot English commands would take about two months; the course would be over by then.
Susan Mesheau, the university's director of public relations, said some students are allergic to dogs and others "have religious affiliations that they cannot associate in the same room with a dog."
St. Paul University officials say no one there has complained on any grounds about Tessier's guide dog accompanying him to class.
In the face of very bad publicity, UNB backed down and let Tessier and Pavot enroll.
Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She's writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.