Can We Get Young Americans to Appreciate Reading? | National Review

Can We Get Young Americans to Appreciate Reading? | National Review


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College professors often complain that their students avoid books. They don’t like to read; they just want to be told “the main point.” In the past, most Americans, even those who weren’t “educated” (no college credentials), read literature, but today many who are “educated” hardly ever open a book.

Can anything be done?

Robert DiYanni has written a book that he thinks will encourage reading, You Are What You Read. In today’s Martin Center piece, Professor Allen Mendenhall ponders his effort and finds it to be underwhelming.

DiYanni’s heart is in the right place. He means to, Mendenhall writes, “steer readers in constructive directions.”

Mendenhall continues: “He does so in three sections (Approaches, Applications, and Uses) that he bookends with a preface and a coda featuring a nine-part credo: ‘Read actively. Read deliberately. Read predictively. Read retrospectively. Read interpretively. Read evaluatively. Read purposefully. Read habitually. Read pleasurably.’”

That sounds good but doesn’t do much to accomplish anything. Mendenhall states that in his own experience, students are more persuaded by stories that will (or at least might) incline them to appreciate the power of literacy — stories like that of Frederick Douglass.

Mendenhall observes, “Which is more powerful: DiYanni’s matter-of-fact claim that reading ‘helps us live our lives’ or Douglass’s riveting account of his tenacious self-education against all odds? The latter, of course. Hence DiYanni’s trouble: Why read his lengthy case for reading enduring texts when you could just read the enduring texts? DiYanni himself might say that you can’t.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.





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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.