Wednesday 14 December 2011

Kids with no books

From the Guardian (not something I read every day):

Three in 10 children in the UK do not own a single book of their own, with alarming implications for their future prospects, according to new research. The survey by the National Literacy Trust also shows that boys are less likely to own books than girls.

The survey of 18,141 young people found that four in 10 boys did not own any books, compared to three in 10 girls. Children who did not own books were two-and-a-half times more likely (19%) to read below their expected level than children who had their own books (7.6%), and were also significantly less likely (35.7%) to read above their expected level than book-owning children (54.9%). The online survey took place in November and December last year, with the majority of participants aged between 11 and 13 years old.

"People tend to think that literacy is an international development issue, [but] actually we have got massive literacy problems in this country," said Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust. "To be brutally honest we weren't expecting [the number of children without their own books] to be so high. We know that book ownership in this country is really strongly linked to literacy issues and social mobility."

That's just sad. I come from a book owning family. Between our house and the houses of my parents and siblings, we have somewhere in the order of 10,000 books - and the majority of that is serious, non-fiction. Our family simply loves to read - anytime, anywhere. We all have the ability to lose ourselves in a book - to get so engrossed in what we are reading, we don't hear anything that's going on around us.

For once, I trust the results of this survey - I've been into plenty of houses where I've gone from one end to the other seeking a bookcase, and have found none. I like to poke around in people's bookcases to see if they have anything worth reading - whenever friends visit us, they always borrow a couple of books (sometimes an entire bag full) and swap them over on their next visit. I've seen houses that have massive libraries of movies on DVD and video games, but no books apart from the Yellow Pages. Plenty of people just aren't into reading books.

It's all about choice. We choose to not have pay TV or video games, and we only have one TV in the house. No one gets a TV in their room, and I'll die before putting one in the kitchen or dining room. We have no budget for books - if anyone in the family sees a book they want, they can have it, no questions asked. The money we save on pay TV and video games etc is instead spent on books. We spend at least half an hour every night reading between two and four books to the young kids. And I mean every night. Not every school night - every night. That's our choice, and I am in total agreement with Mark Latham that it's the right thing to do. Others choose differently, and they reap the results.

You can lead a kid to a library, but you can't make them read.


1735099 said...

Wait until your kids grow up, leave home, and don't take their books with them. We have thousands - and they ignore all ultimatums of the "take them or we'll sell them" variety.

Boy on a bike said...

Heh. My brother was around 50 before he finally collected the last of his stuff and took it to his own place. You have that to look forward to.

Save them for the grandkids - thankfully, mum and dad saved all our kids books and now our kids are reading them when we visit.

Anonymous said...

Although she has some at her house, too, there are a few books here that we read to BEEootiful Granddaughter that begin with "This book belongs to Lovely Daughter." And then she says, "That's my mommy."

Col. Milquetoast said...

I'm less sure about the survey. I have an uncle and aunt who are voracious readers but they keep a very sparse house and other than work related & technical books they give away practically everything they read to the local library. Others read from the library and now there is this internet thing that people read. Books are not necessarily the best proxy for literacy.

But the main reason I am skeptical is that I took a similar survey when I was a kid and I wildly underestimated the number of books in the household. While trying to figure out a number I decided that the 20-some volume encyclopedia was a single title and so it should only count as one. I didn't include my younger brother's books because they were "little kid books" and so I didn't think they counted as real books. I didn't even think about my older brothers books because we spent most of the time pretending that the other didn't exist.

When I got home I counted the books in my room and the total was well over twice what I had estimated for the entire house. I looked around the house counting books and it turned out they were everywhere - sprinkled in places I hadn't remembered. I assert that :
1) kids do not make good estimates,
2) kids (or at least some) are self-centered and don't pay much attention to their surroundings
3) a kid taking a survey is a lot like taking a test except the kid realizes that he can't get in trouble for flunking it, rushing it or faking it.

(in 7th or 8th grade we took a survey about drug use and several of us decided put down as many drugs as we could name. In truth, we weren't really doing LSD, PCP, speedballs, etc we only knew the names from TV.)

I also question the causality and I wonder if something called the National Literacy Trust would ever do a survey that suggests everything is fine. That said, I have come across semiliterate bozos who don't teach their kids.

Col. Milquetoast said...

re: a household's books vs. a child's own books

I'm surprised that the Guardian would be propagating a position against the communal ownership of property.