Guard Against Aliteracy
A NEW type of reading problem is sweeping our world. It is called aliteracy. It is defined as “the quality or state of being able to read but [being] uninterested in doing so.”* (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition) Yes, reading—which was once indulged in as a pleasure—is now often spurned as a chore. “You have to work to read,” complained one 12-year-old girl, “and that’s no fun.”
Many adults are aliterate too. The United States, for example, boasts a 97-percent literacy rate; yet, about half of American adults seldom read books or magazines! Clearly, reading ability is not always matched by reading desire. This is true even among well-educated persons. “When I come home tired from a long day,” says a Harvard University graduate, “I turn on the TV instead of picking up a book. It’s easier.”
What has happened to reading? In recent decades its popularity has succumbed to the attention-grabbing media. “Now that we have our MTV—and our VCR and Nintendo and Walkman—the prospect of plowing through a book doesn’t seem as easy as it did in simpler times,” writes Stratford P. Sherman in Fortune magazine. Perhaps the most time-consuming competitor of reading is television. Indeed, by age 65 the average American will have spent nine years of his life watching TV!
Since the rewards of reading are so often sacrificed to the flickering screen, it would be well to consider the following.
The Benefits of Reading
Reading stimulates the imagination. Television does your thinking for you. Everything is spelled out: facial expressions, voice inflections, and scenery.
With reading, however, you select the cast, set the stage, and direct the action. “You have so much freedom,” says a 10-year-old boy. “You can make each character look exactly the way you want him to look. You’re more in control of things when you read a book than when you see something on TV.” As Dr. Bruno Bettelheim observed, “television captures the imagination but does not liberate it. A good book at once stimulates and frees the mind.”
Reading develops verbal skills. “No child or adult becomes better at watching television by doing more of it,” notes Reginald Damerall of the University of Massachusetts. “What skills are required are so elemental that we have yet to hear of a television viewing disability.”
In contrast, reading requires and develops verbal skills; it is inextricably linked with speech and writing. Says one high school English teacher: “There is no question that your success as a student depends enormously on your vocabulary, both in what you can understand as you read and in how you reason as you write, and there is no way to build up a good vocabulary except by reading—there just is none.”
Reading promotes patience. More than a thousand images may flash across the TV screen in just one hour, leaving little time for the viewer to reflect on what he is seeing. “This technique literally programs a short attention span,” says Dr. Matthew Dumont. Not surprisingly, some studies link excessive TV watching with impulsive decision making and restlessness—in both children and adults.
Reading requires patience. “Sentences, paragraphs, and pages unfold slowly, in sequence, and according to a logic that is far from intuitive,” writes communications expert Neil Postman. At his own pace, the reader must interpret, evaluate, and reflect upon what is on the page. Reading is a complex decoding process that demands—and develops—patience.
A Balanced View
Despite the benefits of reading, it must be admitted that television has its merits too. It can surpass reading in conveying certain types of information.* A fascinating TV presentation can even stimulate interest in reading. “It is reported that TV shows dramatizing children’s literature and science influence children to seek out books on those and related topics,” says The Encyclopedia Americana.
A balanced view is essential. The printed page and television are two different media. Each has inherent strengths and limitations. Each can be used—or abused. Yes, excessive reading to the point of isolating oneself can be just as detrimental as excessive TV watching.—Proverbs 18:1; Ecclesiastes 12:12.
Yet, reading is often slighted in favor of visual diversion. One Japanese newsman laments: “We are shifting from a culture of readers to one of watchers.” This is especially noticed among youths. As a result, many of them grow up aliterate and later suffer the consequences. Therefore, how can parents help their children to develop a desire to read?
How Parents Can Help
Set the example. A Newsweek article entitled “How to Raise Good Readers” gives this pointed admonition: “If you are a couch potato in front of the TV, your child probably will be one, too. On the other hand, if your kids see you happily curled up with a good book, they’ll get the idea that you not only preach reading, you practice it as well.” Even better, some parents read aloud to their children. In doing so, they create a warm bond—something that is sadly lacking in many families today.
Start a library. “Have books around—lots of books,” recommends Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin. “I remember reading them because they were there and because everyone else was reading them, too.” Children will read if books are readily available. The incentive to read will be even greater if the books are part of their own personal library.
Make reading enjoyable. It has been said that if a child likes to read, half the battle of learning is won. So make reading a pleasurable experience for your child. How? First, set limits on television time; it will almost always win out over reading. Second, create an atmosphere that is conducive to reading; quiet times and areas, such as a personal library with good lighting, invite reading. Third, do not force reading. Make the materials and opportunities to read available, but let the child develop the desire.
Some parents begin reading to their children at an early age. This can be beneficial. Some experts say that by the age of three, a child understands most of the language he will use in ordinary adult conversation—even though he cannot yet fluently express these words. “Children begin to learn to understand language earlier and at a more rapid rate than they learn to use it orally,” says the book The First Three Years of Life. The Bible says of Timothy: “From infancy you have known the holy writings.” (2 Timothy 3:15) The word infant traces back to the Latin infans, which literally means “nonspeaker.” Yes, Timothy heard scriptural words long before he could speak them.
The Bible—An Excellent Aid
“The Bible is an awesome collection of literary work,” says the book The Bible in Its Literary Milieu. Indeed, its 66 books contain poetic forms, songs, and historical accounts from which young and old alike can learn. (Romans 15:4) Furthermore, the Bible is “inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
Yes, the most vital reading material available is God’s Word, the Bible. With good reason each Israelite king was required to have a personal copy of the Scriptures and “read in it all the days of his life.” (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19) And Joshua was commanded to read the scriptures “in an undertone”—that is, to himself, with a soft voice—“day and night.”—Joshua 1:8.
Admittedly, parts of the Bible are not easy reading. They may demand concentration. Remember, Peter wrote: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word.” (1 Peter 2:2) With practice, an inclination toward the “milk” of God’s Word can become as natural as an infant’s instinctive yearning for its mother’s milk. Appreciation for reading the Bible can be cultivated.* It is well worth the effort. “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway,” wrote the psalmist. (Psalm 119:105) Do we not all need such guidance in our troubled times?
Aliteracy is not to be confused with “illiteracy,” which is the “inability to read or write.”
In recognition of this, the Watch Tower Society has in recent years supplemented its production of printed material with videocassettes on various Bible-related subjects.
To help children form a longing for Bible knowledge, the Watch Tower Society has produced simplified Bible study aids, such as My Book of Bible Stories and Listening to the Great Teacher. Both books are also available on audiocassettes.