Friday, November 23, 2007

Books at home predict student success better than parents’ education

This article by Motoko Rich in the New York Times reveals a striking fact that seems intuitively right:
In examining the average 2005 math scores of 12th graders who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books, an analysis of federal Education Department statistics found that those students scored much lower than those who lived in homes with more than 100 books. Although some of those results could be attributed to income gaps, Mr. Iyengar noted that students who lived in homes with more than 100 books but whose parents only completed high school scored higher on math tests than those students whose parents held college degrees (and were therefore likely to earn higher incomes) but who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books.

Why might lots of books predict educational success better than parent degrees? Well, homes with 100 or more books are homes where people think that reading is a normal way to learn. If I were asked to make a case for books, I would NOT say that people “ought” to read books (rather than watch TV or surf the net or trade creative profanities with passers-by).

Speaking as a non-fiction writer, I would say rather that reading is a more EFFICIENT way to learn and intelligently experience life – in other words, a better use of one’s time.

Once people have got used to learning from books, I find that they tend to prefer it. The reason is that concentrating on a still page is actually more efficient than watching a flickering procession of images troll past. It takes time to get used to reading, but once you have, you don’t go back to methods where you have less control and less ability to concentrate.

So why do I blog? Because it takes years to get a book into production. The Spiritual Brain was started in July 2005 and didn’t see print until September 2007. A lot of work went into that book, and the person who reads it will have a very clear grasp of the case for non-materialist neuroscience (and against materialist neuroscience). But it’s not the very latest news. Thus, I have found, blogging and writing books go very well together. I write a book every couple of years, and blog continually in the meantime.

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