There are only a few things one can count on in this world: death, taxes, and older people crying tragedy because they believe younger generations are ruining everything. Like clockwork, the LA Times published an op-ed by teacher Jeremy Adams, just in time for back-to-school season, lamenting the fact that kids don't read anymore.
His op-ed rehashes the tired idea that times have changed, that smartphones have dumbed kids down, that they're "reading" in the form of tweets and memes and social posts but they're not partaking in the "serious reading" that he'd been told was so important when he was growing up. "Reading books," Jeremy claims, "has been sacrificed to the tyranny of texting and dizzying array of social media platforms."
If you're rolling your eyes, welcome to the party. I am an avid reader, a voracious consumer of novels. I always have been. I think reading is, for me at least, integral to being a human capable of empathy and creativity. That's not to say the same can't be true for someone else when it comes to YouTube videos or video games.
"In the 1970s," Jeremy writes, "teens read three times as many books as today. In 1980, 60 percent of high school seniors reported that they read a newspaper, magazine, or book on a daily basis for pleasure; by 2016 that number had dropped to 16 percent." Yeah. Because they didn't have world-building video games or highly organized sports or video-producing software or social media in the palm of their hands.
I can drone on and on about the myriad ways I disagree with Jeremy's op-ed, but I don't have to because one very bright, fiery 14-year-old took it upon herself to write a scathing letter to the editor in response to Jeremy's article, and it's totally fierce.
News editor Eric Umansky took to Twitter to boost the signal of his niece's letter. "A few days ago, the LAT had an op-ed fretting about how kids' 'imaginations will be stunted' by their supposed lack of reading. My 14-year-old niece decided to call bulls--t."
In it, she writes, "As a high school student used to older relatives complaining about the decay of my generation, I found that Jeremy Adams' op-ed article lamenting the decline among teens of 'serious reading' struck a familiar note." If you're not already pumping your fist in the air, join me, won't you?
I'm a millennial. I remember a time before smartphones. I love reading books, and I wasn't really sure about Kindles when they started becoming popular. But I understand that times change, technology changes, and the way people move through the world changes. It's not necessarily better or worse than it used to be, and so we shouldn't automatically dismiss these new ways of being just because they aren't what we're used to. Older people need to learn that, STAT.
Her letter continues: "I love reading, but the glorification of it over other forms of entertainment (embodied in Adams' brag that there are treasures only readers understand) needs to stop. It often seems as if a hierarchy of the arts is enforced, with books at the top, and everything else far below. But books don't have more intrinsic value than anything else. It's the thought and work put into art that makes it valuable, not the medium that conveys it.
"Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray changed my outlook on life, but so did the fantasy podcast, 'Rabbits.' The Harry Potter books gave me endless hours of entertainment with their beautiful world-building, but Minecraft allowed me literally to build my own. Does Adams really believe that by having this access to unbounded creativity — as opposed to reading, say, Fifty Shades of Grey — teens' 'imaginations will be stunted'?"
This young woman seems to understand more about art and technology and compassion than old cranky men like Jeremy Adams could ever hope to learn. I cannot reiterate enough that I love books so much and I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I've sat down to play a video game, but I understand that culture evolves and with it, the media by which we consume it. Get with the program, oldies!