Letter: Decline in Reading Standards

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The Independent Online
Sir: If there is a decline in the reading standards of children of primary-school age ("Reading standards at low point", 27 January), the reasons are, to me, obvious - if politically distasteful.

I have taught English at almost every level from four to 18, and I am also the parent of highly literate offspring. I believe that while the influence of heredity must be acknowledged, a more potent influence was their unforced enjoyment of books from babyhood onwards.

That delight was fostered, and perhaps is only capable of being so, by the full-time presence of a non-employed parent (not always the same one), who would answer questions and follow up some of the interests ignited, throughout and beyond their pre-school years.

It just isn't the same experience, being read to in a group, even in the best nursery or first school. Being read to on a lap, from which you can see the print and the pictures, is quite different: mother's-milk reading.

Since the Seventies, when living on one wage seemed a reasonable choice, the ever-growing accessibility of television and of video games has given tired (but comparatively affluent) parents an easy alternative to books that many haven't been able to refuse.

If reading has to be taught by a teacher - an uphill job without the indispensable pre-reading enjoyment, as I can testify from experience - that's already remedial.

After expressing such heretical views I must try to offer a solution. My Utopia will feature universal job-sharing - well-paid, half-time jobs for all - and will spend significant government revenue on promoting awareness of the delight babies derive from books. Books themselves, theatres, concerts and libraries will be subsidised to the hilt; so will public transport.

As to the funding of these proposals, that will be obtained by sparing children the toils of formal education until age seven. I venture to suggest that in these happy circumstances juvenile crime rates, as well as reading ages, will reverse their present trends.



West Yorkshire