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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Are We All Reading and Writing More These Days?

The Easiest Story to Tell is The Exile from Eden

Be it Chicken Little, or the NEA, or some new Prophet of Doom, the easiest story to get people to listen to is the Fall From Grace. Once, so it goes, we read more, read better books, were more serious, trained as better citizens, had attentive children who Took School Seriously. But lo these fallen days of mass media, reading is on the verge of disappearing, electronic devices make books passe, kids only want to play games, We Have Trouble Right Here In River City. But then every so often we get a counter argument, like this one: WE ARE ALL WRITERS NOW (it is in More Intelligent Life on the Economist online, or via the New York Times July 29 Idea of the Day, the computer I am using is not giving me urls to cut at paste).

A college professor says that she used to have a lot of trouble when she first tried to get her students to write. Writing was so unfamiliar to them as a mode of expression that the were tight, self conscious, trying to do too much yet being to controlled — all effort with little result. So she began the semester with "freewriting" excersises — often much like the 25 Things About Me idea that went around the web. Now, precisely because her students are so accustomed to blogging, tweeting (and thus learning to express complex ideas precisely with limited character counts), writing to each other, they begin their college classes far in advance of the students of a few years ago. One commentator objected that writing is not the same as considered writing. That is, just because kids are feeling more at ease setting down words does no mean they are any more able distinguish between opinion and judgement, self-expression with its creative and perhaps therapeutic value and thoughtful writing which actually brings knowledge to the world.

That is a valid point. But I think the college professor is getting us to notice the world around us: kids are spending hours a day writing and reading. Yes they need to be trained to see all of that as like the fun riffs kids try out on the piano as they first learn to play it – sounds great for a moment but is really just a start, getting used to the instrument, tuning up as it were. Still, instead of the death rattle, the silence, the ending of the culture of reading and writing, we seem to be listening in on the overture, the start of something really interesting.


  1. Thank you for this post. I am amazed at how much our kids will read and write — if it is about something they’re interested in. My sons are reading blogs as tutorials. They’re writing opinion as responses to blogs. They are engaged in writing in many more ways than I was at their age.

  2. Sarah:
    Good examples, I had not thought of those. Maybe we should compile these many forms of writing kids are doing as a resource list for teachers.