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03 October 2017 @ 05:31 am
Milt Stevens 1942-2017  
Milt Stevens was an excellent fan writer who said things like, “One might theorize that the decline of literacy in America is the direct result of the lack of unwholesome mind-rotting trash for the kids to read.”

Thanx to File 770
Elenbarathi: Knowledgeelenbarathi on October 3rd, 2017 10:08 am (UTC)
“One might theorize that the decline of literacy in America is the direct result of the lack of unwholesome mind-rotting trash for the kids to read.”

The hole in that theory is the indisputable fact that the Internet has given kids instant access to more unwholesome mind-rotting trash than anyone ever dreamed of.

I'm not convinced that the 'decline in literacy' is a real thing, anyway. When has there ever been a popular literary movement to equal the fanfiction community? The kids are writing up a storm, on their own time, out of sight of their teachers - and they improve their skills through the trial-by-fire of critique by their peers online. Granted, a lot of what they write is unwholesome mind-rotting trash, but some of it is really good unwholesome mind-rotting trash.

El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on October 3rd, 2017 11:59 am (UTC)
I believe Milt said that before there was much of an Internet.
Elenbarathi: Knowledgeelenbarathi on October 3rd, 2017 07:19 pm (UTC)
Well, okay, but I don't recall there being any great dearth of unwholesome mind-rotting trash last century. LMAO, my daughter's first bodice-ripper was The Black Knight, "as trashy a book as they come" - Big Juju only knows where she got it; I certainly didn't buy it. (My own first was Blackbeard's Bride - nowhere near as spicy! - which I found in the library.)

Edited at 2017-10-03 07:19 pm (UTC)
Marionweofodthignen on October 3rd, 2017 05:46 pm (UTC)
I think you're generalizing from a particular subset.

I don't have any studies to cite, either, but the Harry Potter books plus LJ, I believe, caused a brief rise in the coolness factor of both reading and writing in the US; I believe this has reversed after the movies replaced the books in teenagers' minds and after Myface and Assbook replaced blogging. Twitter and Assbook do require minimal reading skills, but look how many kids mainly use Snapchat, Pinterest, and so forth.

My peculiar job and the really uneven state of the local schools make me all too aware that a huge number of people either can't or won't read. Things like people banging constantly on doors that have a sign saying they're locked, and co-workers being unable to put things in numerical order. I don't know how this level of illiteracy compares to previous eras, but I suspect reading was more expected, until maybe the 1960s, that people would have been more ashamed not to be able to do it, and that ordinary teenagers would have had some form of pap they read when they could, such as movie star magazines or porno.

Elenbarathi: Knowledgeelenbarathi on October 3rd, 2017 07:03 pm (UTC)
"I think you're generalizing from a particular subset."

Fair enough, but so too is everybody else who generalizes about anything. The particular subset of kids and teens with whom I interact is probably more intellectual than the average, but not a lot more - and maybe I only think that because I know them; it's possible that they are actually much the same as the rest of their age-group.

The teenage fanfiction community pre-dates the Harry Potter books, and it is still going strong. The LotR movies were a huge push; now Game of Thrones seems to be the biggie, but there are zillions of other fandoms, and zillions of young fans cranking out stories.

A huge number of people our own age and older can't or won't read, and have never written anything at all of their own free will. I tested out of Comp 101 as a college freshman in 1975 so they set me to grading compositions, and ZOMG! how did those students even get to college with such pathetic writing-skills?!?

Since then, I have taught just about every age and condition of humanity - from infants to elders, from genius-level gifted to profoundly developmentally delayed, from private-tutor privileged to foster-care disadvantaged, from multi-lingual to totally non-verbal. Obviously generalizations across such a wide range would be specious, but from what I have observed of students generally categorized as 'mainstream', I don't see that there has been any notable decline in literacy over the past 40 years.

If teenagers nowadays are suffering from a lack of unwholesome trash to read, blame it on their parents for not having any on their own bookshelves. When I was 10, I read all of Mandingo and most of Valley of the Dolls before my mother noticed. When my own kid was 10, she'd read the first five or six Gor books before I noticed.

I don't think I've ever even known anybody who buys movie-star magazines - unless they keep them hidden, like porn. ^^

Marionweofodthignen on October 3rd, 2017 07:11 pm (UTC)
They were a big thing in the 20s and 30s.

I used to teach, too, though not such a wide range as you. (And I also started with freshman comp, which was a particular shock since the system I came out of used essay-writing as the main means of selection for college.) But except for some of my refugee students, post-HS students are at least partly self-selected. It's hard to be aware how deep the illiteracy goes; I keep having to revise my estimate down.
Elenbarathi: Knowledgeelenbarathi on October 3rd, 2017 08:13 pm (UTC)
I sure hear you about that! But these days I'm mostly encountering the illiteracy of adults my own age and older - not minority, immigrant, cognitively disabled or impoverished; white middle-class Americans with high-school diplomas, some with college degrees. Some of them are avid readers, even - with whole walls of bookshelves filled with brain-candy fiction that wouldn't challenge a literate sixth-grader.

They can't read a contract and tell you what it's asking them to agree to. They don't think critically about what they read, or distinguish clearly between fact, opinion and falsehood. Their vocabularies have big gaps, and they don't look up words they don't know; they just *bleep* past them on a wild guess. Their writing is fragmented, ungrammatical and illogical, when they write at all, and many never do.

A lot of our Boomer generation had/has unaddressed learning disabilities, which haven't gotten better with age, but more than that, a lot were just never educated very well in the first place. How Children Fail was published in 1964; public school then was different (or at least looked different) but it wasn't better than now, and in some ways was worse. If everyone in America took an abbreviated version of the SATs every 10 years along with the Census, I wouldn't bet on the Boomers out-scoring the Millennials.