Turn on the TV!

Meme for the day: Reading is overrated.

I’m talking about reading for reading’s sake, turning the greatest number of pages, racking up the largest number of index cards with mini book reports on them. The latter is a common way of holding competitions in schools and libraries.

One local school recently had a bigger-than-life wooden thermometer on its front lawn. It was called a READING thermometer, with numbers representing books read by the students. Each class had a different color and charted the number of books read by the students in that class. And, you guessed it, the class that read the most books got a prize.

Yes, it was a competition—and, regardless of content, the number of books was all that mattered. “Every book read,” said one teacher in an interview, “is an hour away from TV.”

By this reasoning, a second grader reading a mindless book about, say, dancing dinos, was better off than one watching a TV special on the komodo dragon. And a child turning 600 pages of a fantasy novel is better off than one watching a 20-minute YouTube video on the formation of bubbles in a liquid. I don’t think so.

It’s a misconception to think of reading as “active” and TV as “passive.” What could be less active than sitting in a chair or on a rock, the only muscles moving being those of a finger turning a page (or sliding across a screen) or a jaw munching a pretzel? If what’s on the page isn’t truly engaging, it might as well be crepe paper.

I’m happy that many bookstores now have larger children’s sections than adult stacks, but I’d give anything to vet those books and toss the ones that would be better replaced by a video section or even crepe paper.


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