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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

Children should see their parents reading books every day.

My Dad read the newspaper. My Mom never read books, but once they discovered audio books in their daily commute, suddenly they were reading dozens of books each year.

My children have grown up with a library of hundreds of books in the home. They have watched both parents ingest stories and information every day. They were at the table when we discussed ideas from those books.

Both my children read. I think theirs will, too. 📖

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I grew up in a home surrounded by books and full of conversation about their contents, and my maternal grandfather’s place was the same. I couldn’t imagine a better context to raise a reader—or generations of readers.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

This was so great and confirmed a lot of what I've felt. And helps me to feel confident in our choice to homeschool and how we do it.

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I think there’s a ton to recommend homeschooling. If I could design an educational program, it would be a mashup of Montessori and St. John’s. Lots of play, interaction, and reading.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

I teach middle school and kids certainty sneer at reading. The medium is the message, I suppose. The entire issue is more complex than a sound bite.

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I agree with that. It’s a cultural problem with many causes.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

I’m not sure if this is true in all Countries. I’m irish and living in Ireland. I grew up with books everywhere in the house , neither of my parents were what we would define as ‘academics’ they just loved reading. Our school syllabus contains books which must be studied so it is engendered early. I see people reading on the train , in parks and especially young people. Even on Substack there are a lot of younger people recommending books. I’m more hopeful. I do wonder at the American school system though and wonder if it is rigorous enough. Here for entry to University you must for the last 2 years of school study 7 subjects. The results of the best 6 are combined for points. 1 must be a Foreign language and also you must study English Literature and Mathematics. It make for a more well rounded student.

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May 25·edited May 25Author

I should have been more clear on that in the piece. This is, for a variety of political and cultural reasons, a largely North American problem. But we export everything so beware :)

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

I'm Canadian. My parents weren't academics, but had a lot of books and loved reading. My mother was a primary school teacher in the 1970sbefore retiring to have a family - she said she had a system in her classroom that enabled her to listen to the reading of each of her 30 students and coach those who needed it. But she pulled her own children out of public school in the 1980s to teach them herself because she was concerned that the new teaching methods being introduced, such as not teaching phonics, were not beneficial to learning the basics of reading and writing. We certainly were not a typical Canadian household. I think I was the only college and university student to sit in the library and just read. The others gathered there to work on group projects or use the computers and/or Wi-Fi. When taking public transit, seeing someone else actually reading a book is a rare and remarkable occurrence.

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Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful article. Smartphones are a factor, yes, but used too much as a scapegoat. The thing I appreciate the most about this article is that the main issues CAN be addressed - they're not totally out of our hands. Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible.

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Yes! As long as we have something we can do, we should do it. We’re never truly powerless.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

"If kids don’t have enough facts to work with, they can’t grasp what they read. .... If you want college students who can read much of anything, you need to feed grade schoolers more science, civics, history, even philosophy and religion. "

Thank you for this. Quite a relief, having believed all this time that the reason no one reads Mark Twain And CS Lewis Talk Things Over In The Hereafter is that it’s a bad SF novel. Whew!

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LOL.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

Having completed a college diploma in the 2000s and a university degree a decade later, in my experience, it is possible, if one attends every lecture and completes every assignment, to not need to read the entire textbook. For the sciences, that is actually beneficial, since a professor who genuinely understands the science is clearer than any textbook could be - reading text descriptions of the intricate functions or disfunctions of the three dimensional human body is not always clarifying, it helps to hear someone who has actually seen how it works or doesn't work.

However for the humanities, written language is key. I only took humanities courses as adjuncts, but I made an effort to read all that I could for them. Incidentally, when I took Modern Middle Eastern History, I read not only the entire textbook, but also a fascinating account of the early Arab Independence movement by its contemporary, Lebanese Christian Arab historian George Antonius. It was called 'The Arab Awakening' (there is another book with the same title). Antonius, who incidentally had a very poor opinion of Lawrence of cinema fame, translated key documents, printed in full in the appendices, that cast a lot of light on all that has followed in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine. I have since read 'Blood Brothers' by Melkite priest and Israeli-Palestinian peace activist Elias Chacour. Together those two books present a point of view seldom heard from either side of the current conflict.

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Great points, and a wonderful personal example of how reading can give us the scope we need to understand (to whatever degree possible) the world.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

I needed to read this.

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My pleasure!

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You're right- reading begins at home, and it becomes less important if it is not done there.

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Exactly.

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I love this post! I opened up a forum to parents at my school on Thursday to discuss ways to improve low level literacy, to address the decline in reading, to work together to develop that love of reading - it went really well, parents are excited and eager to begin! I have hope! X

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That’s beautiful and encouraging. That sort of thinking is essential to start turning things around.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

I was going to be nitpicky and point out a typo, but then I find I like the phrase ‘viscous cycle’ too much to have you change it. 😅

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I saw it later in the day and groaned. It’s funny how you read over something five times and miss it but come back later in the day and it hits you between the eyes. Still, I’m glad you enjoyed it for its brief run :)

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The readers may not have time. I am certainly within this group.

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That’s a real concern. And that’s where our phones and apps like social media may be causing trouble. We’ve all got some time each day between one thing and another. When we reach for our phone instead of a book in those moments, we reinforce not reading.

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Social Media passes the “white chocolate test.” It is neither.

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LOL

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

Yes to all of your points! I teach Church History to seniors at a Catholic high school. They have a very difficult time comprehending the text and pretty much everything else we do, primarily because they don’t know much about history. They don’t have enough context for what we are talking about. Some of these students have also taken AP history classes, where the teachers teach to the test, and I’m not impressed with the results! And they don’t read outside of school, at least partly because of over scheduling.

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It’s crazy. It’s like we’ve designed a situation guaranteed to produce the worst possible results.

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May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

If that context is missing at home - if no one at home is giving children a sense that they live in a wider world with a long past that has lead to their moment in time - then the teachers have an uphill battle. One thing that I think provided context to my generation was something that is disappearing from general use now - radio. Even the classical music station had periodic news reports on other countries and locations, and since the radio had speakers, everyone in the house heard the same thing to discuss. Headphones have siloed auditory information. For that matter TV used to also be a common household experience.

On over scheduling, parents need to slow down to find each child's strength, and then only have one or two extracurricular activites for each. The rest can be family activities. Sports such as hiking, canoeing, swimming (after some basic lessons), sledding, and skating were family activities for us, not sports to be enrolled in. For several of us, music lessons were our one extracurricular, while the one less inclined to play music took handicrafts. The instructors were local and we read or did schoolwork while waiting our turn.

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May 25·edited May 25Liked by Joel J Miller

Another top notch post, Joel. I tend to be a little too doom and gloom (and I'm right, of course). But I do appreciate your "here is what we can do" approach. I wrote about my own take here (https://www.wingedelmfarm.com/blog/2023/11/29/farewell-peak-literacy-we-hardly-knew-you/). I am by nature less sanguine, although I remain cheerful. But that is because I have my own excellent library. Cheers, Brian

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I am generally optimistic about life and culture. But this is the one area I can tend toward pessimism. It’s a daunting problem to address, and there are (I think) real consequences if we don’t. Still, there are things we can do—and part of that is remaining hopeful and operating with that in mind. Also: Thanks for sharing your piece. Just reading it now.

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May 31Liked by Joel J Miller

Wow. Thank you. My love of books started with Nancy Drew. We were taught Latin in grade school. Invaluable. Never learned Latin. but learned about roots of words that has been of great help in my many careers.

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That’s wonderful.

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Well said. I'm a veteran author of nonfiction for kids, and now I hear that librarians keep our books on their shelves for five years.....gosh, sometimes it takes close to that to complete a series!

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Crazy, right? The treadmill of culture churns ever faster.

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