24% of U.S. adults haven’t read a book in the past year.

America is a nation of ideas. But it’s impossible to maintain that identity if our citizens aren’t interacting with new ideas, imagining a future that could be, and learning about the history of our nation and our world. But that’s increasingly what’s happening. The Pew Research Center found in their latest survey on American reading habits that almost a quarter of American adults haven’t read a book in the past year. This includes audio books, e-books, and traditional paper volumes. This is an alarming finding as it reveals a lack of intellectual growth and curiosity among an inordinately high percentage of citizens. 

That a large percentage of Americans don’t read is especially troubling in light of the fact that public schools are increasingly abandoning classic books, 40% of Americans have never left the country, and distractions like video games and smart phones eat up an increasingly large percentage of the average American’s time. As Americans, we’re not broadening our horizons, we’re choosing to hole ourselves up far from new ideas and cultures, and away from the public square where ideas can be heard and debated.

During a time in our national history when continuous and lifelong learning has never been more important, we need to rededicate ourselves to being a community of learners. This isn’t an issue that can be legislated or fixed by our politicians. It’s not something our bureaucrats can impose through a top-down implementation of education policy. It’s a problem that only be fixed through cultural change.

Parents must instill in their children a love of books and a passion for learning. They must guide their kids’ choices – not just regarding how they spend their free time (reading vs. tv vs. socializing) – but also in their literary decisions. What kids read and how they internalize the material is just as important as making sure they spend time engaged in reading. It’s up to parents to help kids and adolescents wade through the stacks of volumes to find the gems among them. To guide them towards the books that will teach them new things, force them to think differently, and expand their creativity.

This is a problem that can only be solved at the individual level. As parents, we have to take a more hands-on approach as we guide our children’s education. Reading and developing a reading habit is a huge part of that education. And this is a national imperative because as a nation, we cannot succeed if a quarter of our population remains closed off to novel thoughts and new ideas.

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