It's a common refrain, and one that I'll acknowledge singing myself: kids today are reading less and less. Ipods, DVD's, the internet -- all are competing with books for the time of children and teenagers, and books are losing.
In an article in Esquire, Dave Eggers says this is all a bunch of [expletive] nonsense. Eggers, probably best known for his award-winning book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is involved with an organization called 826 Valencia, which started in San Francisco and has spread to other cities. This organization works to encourage young readers and writers, and Eggers claims that interest in books among the young is flourishing. He points to strong increases in sales of children's books over the past several years and cites examples of kids he works with who are thrilled at the possibility of writing, and having their work published, something that 826 Valencia helps facilitate.
Of course, it could be pointed out that Eggers' outlook might be influenced by the fact that he works for an organization which appeals to literate youngsters to begin with. Still, he may be right when he claims we "look for gloomy statistics," including a widely cited report from the National Endowment from the Arts which may now turn out to have been flawed. And he's certainly right in pointing out that with each passing generation education and literacy improves, so that a higher percentage of the population has the choice as to whether to become readers than was the case in the past. Still, it would be interesting to compare Eggers' views with that of a public school teacher who has to deal with a general cross-section of the population, and who has to work on a daily basis to begin or cultivate an interest in reading. Hopefully their experiences would be similarly encouraging.
Eggers' article can be found here.