February 19, 2001

National Education Association (NEA) President Bob Chase cheered the news that even in our fast-paced digital age with its emphasis on technology and computer skills, young people still recognize that turning their attention to the printed page is vital to success in work and life, as noted in a new poll conducted by Peter D. Hart and Associates for NEA.

Teenagers, age 12 to 18, rated reading, math, and writing as the first, second, and third most important things people need to learn to be successful in life. Young people put this to practice, demonstrating a healthy amount of reading. A solid majority - 56 percent - say they read more than 10 books a year, with middle school students reading the most. Some 70 percent of middle schoolers read more than 10 books a year, compared to 49 percent of high school students.

Young Americans give highly positive descriptions of their feelings about reading. Overwhelmingly, they described reading as "relaxing" (87 percent), "rewarding and satisfying" (85 percent), and "stimulating and interesting" (79 percent). Most teenagers rejected the notion that reading is "boring and dull" or "old-fashioned" (68 percent disagree).

Teens will be very much a part of NEA's Read Across America - the largest annual event dedicated to celebrating reading and literacy. Held on the birthday of Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, Read Across America is an opportunity for millions of Americans of all ages to share the joy of reading together. This year's celebration, Oh, the Places You'll Go!, is expected to involve even more than the 30 million children, parents, teachers, celebrities, neighbors and community members involved in last year's read-ins, reading contests, and other Read Across America events. As one child
in the Hart survey aptly put it, "Reading can take you anywhere; you can go different places without leaving your house by reading a book."

Although more young people (42 percent) say they read primarily for "fun and pleasure," rather than to get "facts and information" (35 percent), a greater number of those polled (46 percent) acknowledged that most of the reading
they've done in the past year has been for school. Forty-two percent said the majority of their reading has been for their own enjoyment.

The poll revealed some interesting cultural differences. One-half of those polled rated the enjoyment they got from reading highly ("4" or "5" on a five-point scale), but minority youth were the most enthusiastic. Fifty-six
percent of Hispanic youth and 51 percent of African-American youth reported they enjoyed reading, compared to 47 percent of white youth.

Minority students were also more likely to say their parents encouraged them to read (52 percent for African-American youth and 47 percent for Hispanic youth) compared to whites (43 percent). In addition, minority students more
often reported that they read aloud to someone - a younger child, parent, or elderly person - at least a few times a week. Almost one-half (49 percent) of African-American youth and 40 percent of Hispanic youth read to others often, compared to 33 percent of white youth.

While reading is important, at this age young people are more attached to their music. Almost one-half (48 percent) of teens polled said "listening to music" would be the hardest to give up for a week. Reading would be the first choice (39 percent), compared to watching television (28 percent), using a computer (25 percent) or listening to music (8 percent).

Chase said the poll shows a strong foundation for sustaining a nation of readers, but indicates the need for continuing attention. "Parents and other adults not only need to encourage reading, but model behavior for young people by reading themselves," he said.

"Reading is essential in our everyday life," Chase said. "It is critical to achieving our educational goals. But we shouldn't treat it like spinach - saying, 'Eat it because it's good for you.' We want to say to teenagers, little kids, and adults, too, 'Reading is a smorgasbord - with all your favorite dishes.'"

The poll was conducted for NEA by Peter D. Hart Research Associates from February 9 to 15, 2001, among a national cross section of 509 young Americans, ages 12-18. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4.4%

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 2.6 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support personnel, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

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