Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

% of US adults who read poetry…..or anything

Too few US Americans read literature (plays, novels, poetry, short stories).  We’re too busy watching series on netflix or HBO or fiddling with our iphones.  I need to put my devices down (not the kindle app!) and join the mission–with many other educators and writers–to change these statistics.   What else can explain the fiction of this year’s Republican and Democratic nominations for president? You can see reading stats in this dismal graphic:



The % of US adults who read any fiction is less than 50%.

Sadly, the % of US adults 18 and older who read poetry has declined to a mere 8.3%.

And yet my 8-year-old son begs us to read poems at bedtime, delights our copy of Hailstones and Halibut bones.  My 6 year old daughter pulls out a book of children’s verse from the Free Library Box in front of a neighbor’s house with glee! She pleasures in the surprise of rhyme, the taboo talk of burps, the sonic nonsense of Jabberwocky, the fresh imagery of Strand’s lines:

     Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

—from “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand

Good readers play a crucial role in enriching our cultural and civic life. They are more likely to ask questions of those running for political office.  They are more likely to do their homework and question what is stated as “fact” to win votes.  They are more likely to stand up for others, to understand differences in perspective, to vote in elections, to volunteer, to do charity work, to question bullying (Trump), to imagine what is possible instead of caving to the inevitable (“I would vote for Bernie, but…..”).  Non-reading has dire consequences including these:

  • Deficient readers are more likely than skilled readers to be out of the workforce.
  • Poor reading skills are endemic in the prison population

The data from this 2008 study and the 2004 NEA “Nation at Risk” study before that, prompt three unsettling conclusions:

  • Americans are spending less time reading.
  • Reading comprehension skills are eroding.
  • These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications.

Let’s talk.

What are we reading and what are we not reading?  Let’s dare one another to read for pleasure.  Let’s find creative ways to turn pages of a great short story, novel, play, or book of poetry–please read a whole book of poetry.  Think poetry is too elitist? Too hard? Too much of a turn off? I’ll help you find a good poem, a good book of poems……and be sure to read poetry out loud, hear the words sizzle.  Oh, and please mark your calendars for election day and vote!


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