For those curious to know what type of books American school children are reading, look no farther than Renaissance Learning’s 2016 report What Kids are Reading. Compiled from reading data from 9.8 million students, the report lists the top 25 most read books for each grade along with their reading level.
While some tried and true classics are in the mix, it’s not all that surprising to find Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games topping the charts.
More surprising, however, is the reading level at which most of the popular books register. On average, children in grades 6-11 fail to read material above a fifth-grade level. Twelfth graders do a hair better with an average reading level of mid-6th grade.
Such news is interesting, particularly in light of the current presidential race. Last fall, the Boston Globe measured the readability level of candidates’ political speeches. Donald Trump came in with the lowest score, with a readability level that a 4th-grader could understand. As the Globe pointed out:
“The utterances of today’s candidates reflect a continued decline in the complexity of political speech. President George Washington’s ‘Farewell Address’ in 1796 was written at graduate-degree levels: Grade 17.9 , while President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ in 1863 was at an 11th-grade level.”
In all likelihood, the complexity – or rather, simplicity – of modern political speech is keeping pace with the low reading levels maintained in today’s classrooms.
The American Republic established by the Founders required an educated citizenry in order to maintain it. Judging from the apparently low reading and comprehension levels which seem to be the norm, does it seem that both good education and the Republic are at risk of becoming extinct?
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