I was talking recently with a young college student finishing his first year at a community college. He was doing a paper and I asked how the paper was going. He told me he was about half way through, it was due in a couple of days and he had run out of resources. I told him that I had several books on the topic and he said to me that she didn’t want to use any books. It would me he would have to read and he didn’t want to read any books. What he wanted was to find the information online, copy it, paste it, and reword it. I have to say I was a little shocked.
About a year ago, I was having a conversation with a student who just graduated from high school. This student was taking a placement exam for community college and didn’t do well in reading comprehension. They would have to retake the test or take a remedial reading class. They had graduated from high school without the ability to answer questions about what they had just read on the placement test. The student didn’t want to read and didn’t like reading at all. I was again shocked.
Early generations resented all the homework but no generation until now brags about being able to read and choosing not to as a valid behavior.
Reading rates have fallen drastically in the past 30 years. A study of time usage in 2003 (American Time Usage Survey) showed that the total population of 15-year-olds and older averaged 22 minutes a day in reading of any kind. This could be People Magazine, the newspaper, the latest Harry Potter book or a Malcolm Gladwell book. The youngest group, 15-24 year olds averaged about 8 minutes per day. They enjoyed more than 5 hours per day of free time and logged more than 2 hours of television but only 8 minutes of reading. 
Note some other stats about reading and young Americans:
- The percentage of 17-year-olds who “Never or hardly ever” read for fun more than doubled from 1984 to 2004, 9 percent to 19 percent.
- The more kids read out of school and in school, the higher their testing scores according to the NAEP Trends 2004. 
There is a cumulative, developmental nature in reading. It is a cognitive benefit that says that the more you read, the more you can read. Researchers call this the “Matthew Effect, in which those who acquire reading skills in childhood read and learn later in life at a faster pace than those who do not. They have a larger vocabulary, which means that they don’t stumble with more difficult texts, and they recognize better the pacing of stories and the form of arguments, an aptitude that doesn’t develop as effectively through other media.” 
To be honest, children are reading. And young adults do read sometimes. The problem is that they are reading material that is equal to or less than their skill set. They are reading what other kids are reading. Reading is social and they do not want to be left out. But what they are reading is more elementary in nature, not something that expands their mind, their vocabulary, the ability to understand the nuances of language and of argument.
This has a great impact on communication in the church, especially as those young adults move from youth ministries to standard adult worship. It also has a great impact on the ways we do spiritual formation.
What challenges do you think the lack of reading skills has on communication and spiritual formation?
1. The Dumbest Generation, 49.
2. Ibid, 50.
3. Ibid, 51.
4. Ibid, 59.