WASHINGTON, DC – Boston’s PIRLS International Study Center published a report earlier this month that showed American fourth graders rank 15th among developed nations in reading skills. PIRLS, which stands for Progress in Reading Literacy Study, conducted its research last year in more than 50 countries.
Meanwhile, says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, there is also evidence, which confirms a deficiency of knowledge about American history among young people.
“The PIRLS finding should be a stern warning to U.S. educators. The lack of interest in reading is one of the principal reasons for the inadequate understanding of history among young learners. It can’t all be blamed on the 21st Century emphasis on science and technology in the classroom,” Smith said.
In an article, which Annie Holmquist recently wrote for Intellectual Takeout, she suggests that U.S. educators might be trying too hard to teach children how to read.
Ms. Holmquist compared England, which consistently performs above America in PIRLS assessments, to the U.S. The English goals for young readers are simple and straightforward. They want their kids to learn how to enjoy reading, and how to “develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information.”
In the U.S., however, the objectives are much more complicated. For example, reading standards in America incorporate the goals to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, evaluate arguments and specific claims in a text, and analyze two or more texts to compare themes,” Holmquist said.
“Where’s the fun in that?” asked Smith. “History books that teach names, events and dates may provide the facts, but they can’t make those facts interesting or make the student want to learn the stories behind those details.”
In an effort to minimize the country’s historical “illiteracy,” Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Smith, co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015, as a way to encourage more authors and their publishers to produce absorbing and inspiring books of nonfiction and historical fiction about defining American events.
Smith believes “if you give a student a good read, he will become curious, and— perhaps— start investigating the history of the nation, and grow into a productive, civically-minded citizen.”