Friday, September 3, 2010

Our Dumbed Down Reading

Right now I'm reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  This is his "easy book."  Charlotte Mason recommends it for young readers often.  It has been an easier read as far as Dickens goes, but I'm ...mmm...well....35 and it is still harder to read than many other books out there. 

In the story young David Copperfield is reported to be a poor student.  In his free time he does enjoy the easier reading of Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, Robinson Crusoe, Arabian Nights and Tales of the Genii.  That's his list.  Oh, by the way he is eight.

I know this is just a fiction book and that David Copperfield isn't real.  However, I think it's safe to say that in Dicken's world kids read those books.  In Louis L'Amour's world his boy hero's read those books too.

Why are we adults struggling through these books now?  Our children aren't even close to digesting this level at eight.  I've turned off a lot of headgates for my children in the book department.  Liberty does well I think. She's 12 but she has already read The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice,   Walden, Plutarch, Robinson Crusoe, Silas Marner, The Red Badge of Courage, essays by Emerson and poems by Whitman to name a few.  But those are still hard for her and she struggles through them.  My boys are doing well by reading Narnia I think.  They ae no where close to Liberty's reading level or Dicken's boys.

What has happened to our society?  I've read that the common New England farmer at the time of the Revolutionary War could read the Federalist Papers with ease.  Why do we have a harder time now?  It seems that we have been dumbed down as some have said. (Gatto book link).  I was thinking  why would our children ever want to read these classics though when they can read the watered down abridged version, graphic novels, and simplified, yet high excitement books, etc. etc. etc? Or better yet watch the movie version.  Another thought is that I think we place so much emphasis on fun and entertainment.  This might create a desire to not do hard things like read hard books.  In our fast food world where everything comes quickly it takes patience and practice to find enjoyment and pleasure from the slow moving books of long ago.  I can't imagine most youth taking time to read the sewer scenes in Les Miserables or wading through the language in the opening scenes of Ivanhoe.  It's hard!

I've wondered if there were many kid's books several hundred years ago.  They had the McGuffey's but those didn't show up until the 1800's.  They had some abridged Tales of Shakespeare from the Lamb's in the early 1800's.  What else did they have?  It seems like mostly there were the books they learned to read from like the Bible and Robinson Crusoe and then there were harder books.  It reminds me of my Idaho grandparents (Great Depression era) who only graduated from 8th grade but were better educated than I am now.

I am just thinking. It really hit me hard when I saw all of those book titles in Dicken's book.  Satan has done such a good job lulling us into mediocrity that we don't even realize it.  So now what am I going to do about it?  I'm not saying it's depressing me or anything, it's just more things to think about.  Does it matter?  Should I worry about it?


Amy said...

The first time I read Dickon's A Tale of Two Cities I was struck with the fact that he assumed that he readers were smart! I was so used to being spoon fed a plot and shallow character development by an author who assumed I was an imbecile.

To get my children interested in harder books I've read them aloud. My oldest (9 y.o. son) usually confiscates the book after the first couple of chapters to read it himself. By "harder" I don't mean really hard but hard compared to what he was reading. The first book we did was Swiss Family Robison. I noticed that if I used a lot of inflection when reading, spoke of my enjoyment of the book and especially if I started conversations about the book over the dinner table so my husband could show interest the children saw it as something to desire. We're now reading A Comedy of Errors to introduce them to Shakespeare. So far so good. There is enough humor built into the situation that they are enjoying while not completely understanding all the language.

I too need to build my mental muscles.

Kellie, said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kellie, said...

I had to delete the first one because I was typing with my baby and well...

I have not read anything by Dickens that I would classify in the easy section. I guess I am lacking in education as well. I remember trying to read Wuthering Heights in high school. I actually said that it required too much thinking to read it and I had better things to do, looking back I can see how ridiculous that was.

I am trying to do better!!!

Christy said...

That is quite a list in the Dickens book!
I do think that there were very few "children's books" and that is why children learned to read the harder ones. That was the main entertainment of the day,and if they wanted to be entertained then they learned to read them.

And you are right, our society is so used to being "spoon fed" everything and everything being entertaining, that reading a novel is hard work.

I do wonder though if our "dumbed down" language is also a stumbling block for us. I assigned my 13yo to read Beowulf this month, and it is a challenge. We don't talk like that anymore. He told me, "this is like expanded notation with words."

When I was a kid / teen I didn't read anything old or classic. I read very little other than textbooks in fact. So now as an adult I am discovering the classics, and I'm really enjoying them. But I still can't get into Shakespear. I guess my high school experiences with it gave me a bad taste for it.

I know you have read a lot. I'd love to see a list of some of your favorite books. I have lots of "classic book" lists that I am working through slowly, but I always love to hear what my friends have enjoyed reading.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Language can be an excuse or barrier for not reading "the classics." It's the excuse I hear often for why people don't want to read the KJV of the bible. Practice, practice, practice! And once it clicks, well, the doors are wide open for understanding.

Have you seen the list of recommended reading list by Arthur Henry King? Now there's a list!

Reading List for a Lifetime

Cherie said...

I am seriously considering no longer blogging and just leaving a sign that says "See Being A Mother Who Knows" for all of my thoughts! I couldn't agree with you more! I am worried about what my children are being exposed to and am utterly sickened that "educated me" has such difficulty reading what an "uneducated farmer" read with ease. Or better yet, how difficult things are for me that were once considered entertainment for common society. Satan is a tricky one!

I love that we have the opportunity to escape from the ignorance that's around us and to bring our families (and hopefully friends or other bloggers passing through) with us! Realizing how little we knew and knowing that we wanted more for our children really inspired our move to homeschool. What a blessing! We're all now on a road to better understanding and ability to reason despite opposition and previous excuses to be lulled away. Anyway! Don't be surprised if my next blog is just a reference back here. I know that I need to sit down and write myself for the sake of those that like "hearing" from me, but you do this so well! Thank you for embracing your mission. It's so wonderful to be validated, strengthened, and encouraged by like minded warrior moms no matter where we live!

Just Lara said...

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I saw the book Little Women at the library when I was about nine and wanted to read it but it took me forever and I didn't understand half of it. I think that was the last classic I came across until high school. I'm sad that no one in my life had enough sense to guide me to good reading. I have always loved to read.

Luckily my reading level has improved with practice. I used to think Jane Austen was difficult but now I think it's easy reading compared to other things I read. There's hope!

Being A Mother Who Knows said...

Chocolate-That is quite a list. Sadly I've only read 17 of those books. I can't imagine who much "smarter" I would feel if I read some more great books. It hurts to even think about reading some of those books!

Cherie-You're funny. Your posts are great too. My baby is eight years old though so I have time to form some complete sentences in my head. I remember a time when I could not though!

Christ-You can visit my goodreads account here for some of my favorite reads:

On my goodreads account know that just because I gave a book a 3 doesn't mean I didn't like it. My average rating is less than 3 stars, so know when I give a 5 I really liked it!

Jennifer said...

I have always loved reading. I used to read classics during summer breaks in high school. But, I have only read 9 on King's book list. I have some work to do! And I have some dumbed down books to remove from our home library!

crazy4boys said...

I love Dickens! It's a constant struggle for me to make sure the books we are reading are not dumbed down. My husband's father is a very, very smart man and he grew up reading comic books. Now he reads serious scholarly works for fun. We had the attitude of "at least they're reading." Pokemon, Bionicle, Magic Tree House, Calvin & Hobbes, it didn't matter, as long as they are reading.

We're moving away from that though. There isn't a lot of time in our days to waste on junk or that which is not uplifting, praiseworthy or of good report. We are trying to use our time more wisely and that means reading good books, not twaddle.

Part of our purging has gotten rid of much of those books. We still have a long way to go. I have found though that kids understand way more than you give them credit for. We read a lot of books out loud and even my littlest ones can follow the plots and characters and have a fairly large vocabulary (because they ask if they don't understand a word).

As we read more, it does get easier to understand. And for some works certain translations are better than others.

We are Ben and Rebecca said...

I think the scary thing is not Satan "dumbing" us down- but by his ability to get "cults" if you will, to follow more than mediocre books i.e The Twilight Series and other such "series" that have large followings. It's embarrassing to me. I was blessed with well-read parents who taught me not to fall into those trends; I plan to read to my children. As infants both babies have heard Shakespeare. Like Deanna said, getting them used to the language early on (although that reference was to the scriptures, I believe it applies)is key.

Sabrina Zequeira said...

hey wow you homeschool I homeschool to I plan to attend keystone this year because it offered honors and AP classes do you have any advice for me thanks a million also do you know of anyone who has used keystone online school. You can contact me on my website or if its easier you can email me at that would be wonderful also do you know the procsses for re enrollment in highschool after you homeschool I am sorry for all these questions but its very hard to find a blog as dtailed as yours about homeschooling.

My Heart Squared said...

I believe the way we use words, how we use words, the meaning of words and new words that have come into play over the last decade also contribute to how we understand. It is what makes reading challenging AND enjoyable. And sometimes it can't be both at the same time (ha ha).

Reading aloud to children helps them to think and also ask questions. I find myself explaining things to them as they as questions and also when we come to words or phrases that are not readily used in 2010.

For me, it even helps to at least have a summary of the story so if it is on the difficult side, I cn follow. I believe this is why there are chapter headings for each of the chapters in the Standard works! It helps the reader to get an idea of what they are about to read!

Thank you for your thoughts! I will be sure to check out a classic the next time I venture to the library!!!

Celeste B. said...

I have thought about this quite a bit as well. I can hardly get through The Federalist brain struggles with understanding their wording.

I read at a post by Dr. Shannon Brooks that discusses WHY we are dumbed down. It is an interesting read.

Ranee said...

This post echoes a lot of my thoughts, recently, about my own learning! I have picked up some books that I have put down, because I didn't have the ability to understand them. Reading is my best is spelling. In school, growing up, I always excelled in them. As a mother of 5 small (including special needs)children, I am constantly pulled in a million different directions. I don't have the time to research things the way I'd really like, to ensure that I am learning everything I can. I think that for now, I am just trying to stay one step ahead of my kiddo's! It's slow going, but I keep plugging away, hoping that I know enough to keep them going forward! For me, attitude is everything! I try to have a great attitude about learning, and I try to let my children see me struggle and push on through, things that are difficult. I want them to see me perservere! One of the things we have started with is me reading aloud to them from The Book of Virtues, and then dissecting the text of the poem or story, a little, to understand the meaning! It's fun and is helping to build our vocabularies, in an inspirational way. We ask questions like "What do you think this poem is about?", or "What do you think inspired the author to write about this?" In this way, I am also trying to teach them the value of a great colloquium, too! I definitely feel that the conveyor belt has a desire to dumb us down, and by so doing, take away our freedom and ability to think for ourselves! I am glad for the opportunity to learn how to think for myself, even if it slow going! Line upon line, right?? :0)

Mr. Smith said...

I apologize if this comes through as a stream of consciousness - I am pressed for time but this struck a chord and I felt obliged to comment. Feel free to delete if it's too chaotic. :)

Hrmm, I don't necessarily disagree with the premise of this post. However, I am concerned that's it generally accepted by the readers that we are collectively being "dumbed" down. I am concerned that suggests intelligence is reduced, which I do not believe is universally correct, though it may be correct in some instances.

The "world" asserts that intelligence is innate, that an individual's raw intelligence is essentially the same today as it was at birth and will be upon death. The "IQ" (Intelligence Quotient) notion is predicated on this belief - if an individual's IQ could change, after all, the test would be entirely irrelevant.

The Lord, however, has clearly defined intelligence as light & truth (D&C 93). D&C 130 clearly indicates intelligence can be "attained" and "gained" throughout our lives, in relation to our diligence and obedience. The suggestion seems that intelligence - light and truth - may therefore increase throughout our lives.

Does poor literature decrease light and truth? It may. But I think it's that simple.

FWIW, I agree that our technologically-savvy generation is ripe for ignorance, easily satisfied with a few quick quotes, soundbytes [pun intended], and references. Several years ago in a General Conference one of the speakers reflected how the Founding Fathers and many others of their representative era (i.e. Montesquieu) had so little literature available it could easily fit on today's smallest computers (thumb drives), and then poignantly asked about our use of the enormous quantity of information available today, going so far as to ask if we were smarter for the increased information. That's how I remember it, anyway.

I think it likely folks from 200+ years ago would have a difficult time understanding our lexicon - despite still being English - too, but that should not necessarily be understood to mean they're dumber.

My $.02.

Being A Mother Who Knows said...

Mr. Smith-I wonder perhaps if in the homeschool culture we have a false tradition of saying we are dumbed down? Never thought about that. I like how you said that a better way to say it would be that that our readings today have less "light and knowledge" than others.

I think that our lowered reading level, whatever you want to call it, has been lowered though. We do speak a different language now compared to then, but it isn't a better one. Our language has short, simple words like you referenced.

Regardless, I will strive to improve the quality of language along with my family's in hopes that we can gain, not decrease, in light and truth.

: ) Thanks Mr. Smith. How's that favor I asked you about coming along anyway?

Celeste B. said...

I wasn't going to comment again, but this subject has been weighing on my mind, so I guess I better respond and get it out of my brain so I can move on to other things. ;-)

Six years ago I taught in a K-5 school teaching computers. One day as I sat watching a 5th grade class, I thought, "If Thomas Edison popped into this room right now he would think this is a room full of genius scientists!" Their ability to quickly find information and their knowledge of searching the Internet astounded me. I sued to get offended when people said Americans are dumber than they used to be and often defended, fiercely I might add, that Americans are technologically advanced people and therefore smarter than the world or people of the past.

Fast forward a few years and I have come to realize that there are big differences between Wisdom, Knowledge, and Information. This new generation is very versed in acquiring information, but they are lacking in the ability to apply that information, or knowledge of how to use that information. They do not understand much of what they read and even less of how that information relates to the world. It is just facts to them. Facts do not translate into knowledge, it is just information.

There are several books on this topic, "A Thomas Jefferson Education", "Dumbing Us Down", "Boys Adrift", and many more. As a society, we are not teaching how to think. We are not teaching how to apply knowledge and we are very far from teaching wisdom (moral uses of knowledge). This loss of how to think...makes us dumber as a society.