Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Readin' Fool

I was going to explain that I've been a little light on posting lately because I've been trying to catch up on my reading. Unlike your average highly paid pundit, I have this idea that I ought to know what I'm talking about before I spout off in public. Then I came upon this news from the National Endowment for the Arts, which reviewed recent academic studies to conclude that young people today aren't reading. Some highlights, as reported by the Boston Globule's David Mehegan:

Only 30 percent of 13-year-olds read almost every day.

The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure.

The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading. . . .

Apparently, things are not much better among college students. In 2005, almost 40 percent of college freshmen (and 35 percent of seniors) read nothing at all for pleasure, and 26 percent (28 percent of seniors) read less than one hour per week. Even among college graduates, prose-reading proficiency declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.

Now this goes a long way toward explaining why we're in so much trouble. No wonder politics is all about who you want to have a beer with and the way Hillary laughs. Most voters don't know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid and think we stood shoulder to shoulder in World War II with our valiant German allies against the Stalinist threat to take over the world. They not only think Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction™, they think he used them against U.S. troops. They don't know Sunni from Shiite from Shinola. They believe the Bible is literally true but they haven't read it and they have no idea what's in it. (Which, by the way, is the only way a sane person could believe that.) They have vague impressions that there are problems out there but they have no basis for understanding or thinking critically about competing policy proposals -- which leaves us wide open for demagoguery and outright lying by politicians. And that's what we get.

Death to television!

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