First, I feel the need to start off with a little self laudation. Throughout my life, I have consistently tested in the highest percentiles on all portions of standard-ized tests related to reading/writing. I was in the 98th percentile on the ACT verbal, and I scored a 786 out of 800 in the GRE verbal section. I took the Miller Analogies test as an undergrad for fun, and ended up in the 96th percentile. Now, before my head explodes because I’m so incredibly cerebral, I must state that my math scores on the ACT and GRE were below 50%. That’s right, I’m a drooling idiot when it comes to math. If it weren’t for my outstanding verbal scores, I wouldn’t have been able to get into college or grad school at all!
So, ever since this blog got those despised “elementary school reading level” and “junior high school reading level” ratings, I’ve been doing some heavy-duty thinking about the state of literacy in the U.S. If I’m writing at a 7th or 8th grade level, then at what level does the average high school graduate write? Does the average high school graduate write? Does he read?
As it turns out, hardly anybody reads (or writes). Here are some statistics compiled by the National Endowment for the Arts. I’ve heard some of these before, but others are new to me. These are 2002 statistics, so they’re probably worse now:
- Only 67% of college graduates read for fun – EVER! Out of those 67%, only about 25-30% read fiction on a regular basis.
- About 1/3 of adult males read literature. Most of the rest of them drink beer and watch Jackass reruns during leisure time.
(Johnny Knoxville, 2003)
I knew all that stuff already. What I didn’t know is that proficiency levels have dropped significantly as well.
- Nearly 50% of U.S. adults cannot read well enough to find a single piece of information in a writing sample, nor can they make inferences or connections based on what they read.
- Only around 1/3 of high school seniors read proficiently, with a reading score of 302 or higher (out of 500).
- Among college graduates, reading proficiency has declined a whopping 20-25%. The average reading score for someone with a Master’s degree is now 327 (out of 500).
Out of those people who did read in 2002, only 12.1% read poetry. 7.1% practiced personal creative writing.
It’s pretty scary isn’t it? Not only are we not reading much at all, but a bunch of us who are reading are not comprehending what we read. No wonder Harry Potter is so popular among grown-ups! We can’t understand or enjoy anything more complex.
That’s it! I’m going to find a list of the most “literate” fiction out there and take a stab at a couple of those novels. Marcel Proust, here I come! (Well, on second thought, maybe I’ll stick to Ken Follett).