Self-development and Reading Ability.

Self-development is one of the most searched key words on the internet. A Google search shows 109 million results.

self developmentAnd one of the most popular with internet marketers.

From genuine providers of books, articles, videos and courses that can help people, to others selling everything and anything remotely connected with improving any aspect of life. Sadly the field of self-development attracts a good share of the digital equivalent of the snake oil salesman of old.

Why should this be?

  • An insatiable appetite for improvement through learning?
  • A quest for a “magic pill” – one secret that will transform lives?
  • A condemnation of the education system?

Or is it a result of all three, driven by the flood of information in this digital age and the curse of being constantly connected?

Three separate articles this week point towards a confluence of all the above.

Firstly, a reader kindly sent me this damning report from by Linda Schrock Taylor at on the abysmally low standard of reading ability in the USA. Read the article and you will discover that only 28 million adults or 13% of the population  are at a proficient prose literacy level.

Her comment that:

“if only 13% of our voting-age citizens can read, evaluate, and act upon complex explanations and suggestions, it is no wonder that we are losing both our liberties and our country”.

Is ably demonstrated in this You Tube video of Mark Dice asking Hilary Clinton supporters to sign a petition endorsing Karl Marx as her candidate for vice president.

If more than 13% of the population could read proficiently, most adults would know who Karl Marx was and know about the millions of people murdered by regimes following his ideology. They would understand the effect of the damage to the economies of the world in the last century by his supporters. They would realise that economic development in many countries was being handicapped by labour unions, “liberal” politicians and other supporters of those failed policies.

The third article was by Jenna Woginrich in the Guardian, about how she got rid of her smart phone addiction by not having any type of mobile phone and reverting to an old-fashioned land line. She writes how she improved her quality of life by removing this major source of distraction.

Her article has attracted 991 comments and 38 000 shares in two weeks; it must resonate with many readers.

In her article, Linda Schrock Taylor notes that literacy levels have declined since the teaching system was changed in 1930. A generation ago, before the Internet and social media, television was seen as the culprit, the distraction that caused children to lose interest in reading books.

Now it’s smart phones and the addiction to being constantly connected.

Self-development and the paradox of plenty.

There’s an old adage in selling that a customer should never be given more than two choices.

Making a choice between A and B, red or green, standard or automatic, economy or premium is quite easy for most of us. Ask a buyer to choose between too many options, and you are asking to lose the sale.

Perhaps the same paradox is at play with the huge number of sources of information, and the level of distraction in the modern world. We cannot make the simple choice to pick up a book, improve our literacy level and work on our own self-development.

As the article on literacy mentions, even if the elementary school system was changed tomorrow, it would not solve the problem for millions of functionally illiterate Americans.

What do you think? Leave a comment


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  2 comments for “Self-development and Reading Ability.

  1. Roberta
    February 27, 2016 at 11:36 am

    For some reason I got hung up on the Linda Schrock Taylor article. I guess that may be due to the fact that I have a Master’s in Reading. Add to that ten or more years of teaching reading to first graders and over ten years teaching teachers how to teach reading and I have some expertise in teaching reading. The joke where I taught was that I could teach a rock to read.

    Some day I will have to tell you how I came to be a reading teacher. I did not know I had that skill until a principal kinda sorta made me teach reading to first graders.

    It is easy for Ms Schrock Taylor to denigrate schools and teachers about how poor students do on reading tests.

    Most of the necessary skills to learn to read take place from age 0-5. Teachers have NO, NONE, NADA time with babies. It is the role of parents. To learn to read first parents have to talk to their children. Parents with a college degree do more of that than any other parents. Then parents have to read to their children. Again, poor parents do much less if any of that.

    I agree that 98% of children learn to read through phonics. Reading Schrock Taylor would think schools and teachers do not do any of this. The Clinton/Bush No Child Left Behind program was phonics. I have no idea what has happened to that since Obama. But i have a feeling it is no longer mandatory.

    Most private schools teach phonics. Plus home schooling is up 62% the last 10 years. Most home schools also teach phonics.

    So Ms Schrock Taylor saying phonics are not taught may be true for public schools _ I really do no know any more since I am not in schools any longer – is meaningless since so many children go to private schools or are home schooled. So her numbers only show one small slice of the pie.

    Another factor to take into account is we do not know what test Schrock Taylor was speaking about. Was it a local test? State test? National test? How was it normed? Who took the test? All schools? A small slice of schools?

    Another factor in tests is that the USA usually tests everyone. In other countries only a small percent of kids in school take the test. Some countries only test the college bound. America test everyone in school.

    “Research has consistently shown that on nearly every measure of education (instructional hours, class-size, enrollment, college preparation), what students learn in school does not translate into later life success. The United States has an abundance of the factors that likely do matter: access to the best immigrants, economic opportunity, and the best research facilities.”

    Quote from this Link:

    From me in 2012 – What is Right With America

    Yes. Things can always be better. However, I prefer to focus on what is right and good at the same time trying to make things better.

  2. Peter
    March 1, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Thank you for providing a good counter point to Linda Schrock Taylor’s somewhat depressing report on the state of adult literacy. It’s good to know that schools are still teaching phonics.

    I agree completely that children need to start reading before age 5, well before they come under the influence of teachers and formal schooling.

    Sadly, the modern society which creates pressure for both parents to have jobs (in most families) interferes with that early start.

    My own observations, and comments from others indicate that despite the efforts of teachers, many young adults are entering the job market with reading skills far below those of their parents and grandparents.

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