December 11, 2021

Anne Lutz Fernandez: What Should Parents Be Worried About? The Books Their Children Don’t Read

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Anne Lutz Fernandez is a retired high school English teacher, who wants to point out that removing books from school libraries misses the mark when it comes to children and reading.

While challenges to school and library books are a perennial issue tracked by the American Library Association, we’re seeing, as part of a broader political attack on education, a surge in efforts to remove books from schools, particularly those related to race or gender. There are even calls to torch them as the government does in Bradbury’s dystopia. A Virginia school board member demanded recently to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

This right-wing propaganda and Republican-led legislative push has some parents convinced that the most urgent problem in education today is what their children are reading.

The problem, though, isn’t what America’s children are reading. It’s that they aren’t reading.

This shouldn’t be a surprise as data shows children spend ever more time on screens. Pre-pandemic, teenagers were at it about seven and a half hours each day, excluding for schoolwork. Only a speck of this is spent reading periodicals or books, meaning they essentially have full-time jobs scrolling entertainment. Add school, sports and other extracurriculars, caring for siblings, or actual jobs, and there might be time left for most high schoolers to read the back of a cereal box.

Meanwhile, the hunt for “pornographic” books in schools led by politicians such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott is especially misguided when children’s exposure to online porn is terrifically common. And this isn’t all they get online. Adults worried about the psychological effects of books might peruse the list of mental health issues the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes come from being too online. And those who fear books are brainwashing might look at how youth are being radicalized online.

But screens aren’t the only reason America’s children don’t read. They’re growing up in a book-eschewing culture. On average, adults read mere minutes a day. One in four don’t read even part of a book a year. Still, whether or not they read themselves, parents might be surprised at how little their children do, given that they are asked to for school. When a parent would inquire how their student could improve their grade in my English class, I would ask, do you see them with the book we are studying? The answer was often an embarrassed no.

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