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Keeping the "Cyclops" at Bay This Summer

Nancy Agris Savage

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A warning about television and practical advice on encouraging children to read from a stay-at-home mom.

Want to hear a scary statistic? Once out of school, nearly 60 per­cent of all adult Americans never again pick up a single book and the majority of the remaining 40 per­cent read only one book a year.

Alvin Kernan, author of The Death of Literature, said that reading books ;is ceasing to be the pri­mary way of knowing something in our society. He points out that bachelor degrees in English literature have declined by 33 per­cent in the last 20 years and that in many universities, the courses are largely reduced to remedial reading. American libraries, he adds, are in crisis, with few patrons to support them.

Where does the blame lie for this disturbing phenomenon? At the feet of the two, three or four television sets in our homes. Novelist Larry Woiwode calls television "the Cyclops that eats books.

Television has greater power over the lives of most Americans than our educational system, gov­ernment or church. Children are particularly susceptible. They are mesmerized, hypnotized and tran­quilized by TV. It is often the center of their world. Even when the set is turned off, they tell stories about what they have seen.

Teachers at the elementary, secondary and college levels can testify that their students' writing was not seen 10 or 15 years ago. Language, grammar, and rhetoric have been replaced by visual moving images, leaving our young people with a lack of analytical skills necessary to deal effectively in the world.

Recent surveys suggest that up to 40 percent of the American public is functionally illiterate. The problem is not just in our schools or in the way reading is taught. TV teaches people not to read.

TV anchorpersons and talk show hosts have more power over us today than the teachings of Aristotle and Plato have been able to exert on mankind over several centuries.

The Center for Continuing Education at the Australian National University recently did a study on the effects of TV on learning. They concluded that when we watch television our usual processes of thinking and discernment are semi-functional at best.

The study also argues that "while television appears to have the potential to provide useful information to viewers -- and is celebrated for its education function -- the technology of television and the inherent nature of the viewing experience actually inhibit learning as we usually think of it."

One aspect of the television phenomenon that has become a focus of debate of late -- both on TV and off -- is the effect of TV violence on our children.

In one of the two most extensive studies to date, psychologist Leonard Eron and University of Illinois professor Rowell Huesmann observed 875 8-year-old boys in New York state for over four decades.

"When research was started in 1960, television viewing was not a major focus. Bin in 1970, in the 10-year follow-up, one of the best predictions we could find of aggressive behavior in a teenage boy was how much violence he watched as a child. In 1981, we found that adults who had been convicted of the most serious crimes were those same ones who had been the more aggressive teenagers and who had watched the most television violence as children."

Ok. Let me get off my soapbox and admit that after a hard day of work, a few hours escaping in front of the boob-tube is pretty inviting. I won't preach about what I cannot claim to prac­tice. However, I would like to throw out a few thoughts for those with children and grandchildren.

Try diverting the car toward the library once in a while instead of the video store. They'll scream the first few times, but who knows, you might even get them to go inside. Be careful though. Libraries are desperate and resort to renting videos to try and draw a crowd.

The best suggestion for the good of all our children -- and for our own good, as well -- is that as adults set the example for the next generation by making time to read. It's a better stress reliever that anything put out by the drug companies and contains no side effects! It's a great feeling to finish a great whodunit, tearjerker, or for those with a serious side a solid biography of someone you have always admired.

Encourage reading this sum­mer by hanging a hammock in the backyard under a shade tree. Sound corny? Try it yourself. You won't want to get up any time soon. Help your kids start a book club with some of their cousins, neighbors, or friends. They can read a book and then trade it off with a friend.

As you pack for the beach, throw in the sunblock and a book right after it. Put books everywhere your children sit for longer periods of time like the back seat of the car, or in a basket near the sofa. You might even try a chil­d's magazine in the bathroom. If books aren't easy to get to, chil­dren will turn to that which always is ...the clicker -- more formally known as the remote control.

But if you buy, borrow, or give books, the children will read them Have a wonderful summer.

Nancy Agris Savage was the editor of "The Hellenic Chronicle" from 1990-2000. She is currently writing freelance for several publications and, together with her husband, Bob, raising two young daughters.

Copyright © 2003 Nancy AgrisSavage. This article appeared in "The Hellenic Chronicle." Reprinted withpermission of the author.



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