On my "Tutoring Services" page, I have included a link to a study published by the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides statistical evidence for the claim that there is a direct correlation between academic achievement and pleasure reading; that link takes you to the full NEA report, called "To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence" but you can also link to a summary of that report from here.
So, how can we get kids to read? This question has an almost embarrassingly simple answer...Give them books that they want to read. If they won't deal with books when you first start encouraging them to read, take care to remember that there are many other ways to absorb words, even if you don't personally approve of them. Use what your kids already like; personally, I think it is a mistake to stigmatize comics, graphic novels, and magazines. Whatever gets them reading can't be all bad, even if you (if all of us)have been conditioned to view those kinds of materials as trash.
Another thing to consider is how much merit there is in trying to censor the books (or even the movies and TV shows your kids watch). As someone who studies violent and upsetting topics, I would be hard-pressed to find something related to my field that isn't graphically violent and or profoundly disturbing. I am not in the habit of paying homage to the philosophy of Cher, the heroine of "Clueless", but her argument against censorship is a valid one: until human beings can stop being violent and cruel to one another, such horrors will always be available for on any news program. In my next entry, I will try to offer some lists of books for different age groups, based on particular interests.
One of the most interesting things I have learned recently, acting as both student and teacher of history, is that we are taught substantially different kinds of history as we get older. A good example of this is the contrast between the moral simplicity of the Civil War as it is taught to high schoolers, and the relative moral complexity of the Civil War as college students discover it; even more interesting, I think, is that this tends to be true, no matter what part of the country you are from.
By this, I mean that whether you learn about it as a "War of Northern Aggression" or a conflict between the immoral slaveholding Confederacy and the righteous abolitionist Union, you will ultimately find that neither conception follows from the historical data. Ultimately, the centrality of the battle for state sovereignty, along with the near-universal racism of most northerners, will force students of the war to recognize the moral subtleties and primacy of practical concerns and/or political expediency. Such nuances seem (at least to me) to be withheld from younger students learning about the war.
Unfortunately, not all students have the opportunity to take the kind of advanced history courses that reveal the moral and political ambiguities of the war. The Civil War is merely one example of a period/event that we learn to see in black and white, and it is a good one because 150+ years have failed to sufficiently corrode the time-honored convictions (held by North and South alike) that undermined Reconstruction and rewrote fact into a fanciful romantic reunion that sealed up the tortured seeds of the war to rot beneath our feet, so that we are only reminded of them occasionally, when the scent of putrefaction slithers up into the rarefied air of our liberal modern world.
We can only unmask the fictions of history (as it has been told to us) through probing and conscientious investigation of the historical record, and this kind of study requires not only intellectual curiosity, but also a flexible mind, capable of integrating even the most unexpected or unwelcome information into an ever-changing narrative of a past that can never even aspire to reflect "reality."
Being a good writer is more than merely knowing how to put words on a page. It is more than mastering grammar, mechanics, and usage. It is also possible to struggle enormously with academic writing assignments,while being a truly gifted creative fiction or non-fiction writer. Find yourself in your thesaurus...once you find a thesaurus that works for you. As for actual texts, I prefer Roget's International Thesaurus; online, I regularly use thesaurus.com, freethesaurus.net, and more recently, I have loved using the somewhat unconventional Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus (visualthesaurus.com). Given enough time, confidence, and the right resources, anyone can learn to express themselves with articulate eloquence. Learn how to enjoy and play with words, and you will find that the writing process can be transformed from a chore to a favorite hobby.