Ending Text Free Zones

Here’s Laura Miller pointing to recent research on the danger of text-free zones:

A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete.  The study (authored by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikorac, and Donald J. Treimand) looked at samples from 27 nations, and according to its abstract, found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than unskilled father.”  Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed an average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.

Miller is arguing for the importance of introducing students to a wide variety of books at an early age.  A home full of reading materials sends a clear signal on the importance of reading and the premium placed on literacy.  And families at all income levels have access to public libraries. Free online tools like Lexile Find a Book allow students to create customized reading lists that suit their own tastes and reading level.  Admittedly, that is sometimes easier said than done.  As Miller writes:

…If you happen to be comfortable in bookstores or libraries- if you’ve been to them many times before and know what to expect, what you want and where to find it, or if you know whom and how to ask and feel entitled to bother the staff with your questions – it can be difficult to appreciate how intimidating these institutions of print culture can seem to someone who has little or no acquaintance with them.  I didn’t quite get it until I found myself wheedling a comics-loving friend into picking up issues of a comic book I wanted.  “I’m never going to go into a comic book store,” I told him.  “They’re confusing and the people who work there are so unfriendly.”

This is, of course, assuming that poor families have bookstores and libraries in their neighborhoods, and that it’s safe and easy for a child to walk to them alone.  Furthermore, a single parent working two minimum-wage jobs to keep food on the table may not have the time or energy to make a special trip between shifts…

Miller’s point is well taken.  But there are a variety of efforts underway to change that, to get books in the hands of children at all socio-economic levels.  We’ve written before on programs like Access Books , which to date has given away over one million books.  Our own Find a Book tool makes that effort more realistic as well.  Children without access to book retailers can still become familiar with the process of self-selection, of establishing their own tastes and preferences (remember: children in text-free zones are often at a loss to even know the sorts of books they like).  From there they can develop their own individualized reading list and utilize the public library to fill their home with books and to experience the love of reading that other children sometimes take for granted.

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