The Cat in the Hat and tests in the bag

Who are these people?

It is eminently logical that the reading comprehension tests scores of children and adults alike increase according to the time they spend reading for pleasure. More, it is not surprising that children with more than 100 books in their home score markedly better on standardized tests, including math tests,, than children whose parents own fewer than 10 books. And, especially for those who us have attended college, there is nothing breathtaking with this final conclusion, which along with the first two bits of trivia comes from a study by the United States National Endowment on the Arts discussed here in the New York Times:

students who lived in homes with more than 100 books but whose parents only completed high school scored higher on math tests than those students whose parents held college degrees … but who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books.

Thus my opening: who are these people? The correlation is remarkable only in the plainest, “notable”, sense of the word. What is breathtaking is not the conclusion, but the fact that there is a significant cohort of college-graduate parents who own less than 10 books.

I can think of only two even vaguely believable explanations for the existence of these people. Completing college is no guarantee of economic success. Perhaps, facing the slouching, lurching beast which is poverty in the United States, and specifically caught between its twin jaws of a pitiless labour market and an increasingly toothless welfare system, some college-graduates may be included in a sizable cohort priced out of books, as if they were only a disposable luxury.

More likely, in response to a rising tide of unnecessary credentialism, these parents participated in four years of post-secondary schooling so mind-numbing that, instead of feeding a flickering flame of passion for learning, the experience so finally smothered whatever academic spark they left high-school carrying that they respond to books in their home not with an inflamed literary temperament, but a more literally pyromaniacal urge.

Critics of the study suggest that the authors under-measure internet reading – though if my writing is any example of what is available, then we can be sure that writing on the internet is no substitute. Books are, the critics argue, a thing of the past. However, the conclusion about such correlations show that books still matter, and for children they matter at home.

There is a bright side, in the form of a clear lesson for all of us: if one wants to avoid a child so precocious that she corrects grammar and regales with trivia, the choices are to sell off one’s Hawking, Hemmingway, Chomsky and Chaucer, or to put them, along with the Cat in the Hat, under lock and key. At least until standardized test day. (via Arts & Letters daily)

1 comment to The Cat in the Hat and tests in the bag

  • I think what we know now about learning styles is that reading is one way of learning that isn’t the easiest or best for everyone. In addition, one of the things you can’t learn from a book is how to apply what you’ve read. People who are more visual or kinesthetic prefer other methods. A lot of those people do extremely well because they learn more by working with knowledge.

    I read and write all day for work, so reading for pleasure isn’t very pleasurable. Instead we listen to audio books. I’d say we go through about 40 a year. I’m not sure this study would count those.

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