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Everyone Likes Reading. Why Are We So Afraid of It?

The New York Times: Book bans, chatbots, pedagogical warfare: What it means to read has become a minefield. “Everyone loves reading. In principle, anyway. Nobody is against it, right? Surely, in the midst of our many quarrels, we can agree that people should learn to read, should learn to enjoy it and should do a lot of it. But bubbling underneath this bland, upbeat consensus is a simmer of individual anxiety and collective panic. We are in the throes of a reading crisis. Consider the evidence. Across the country, Republican politicians and conservative activists are removing books from classroom and library shelves, ostensibly to protect children from “indoctrination” in supposedly left-wing ideas about race, gender, sexuality and history. These bans have raised widespread alarm among civil libertarians and provoked a lawsuit against a school board in Florida, brought by PEN America and the largest American publisher, Penguin Random House…The reading crisis reverberates at the higher reaches of the educational system too. As corporate management models and zealous state legislatures refashion the academy into a gated outpost of the gig economy, the humanities have lost their luster for undergraduates. According to reports in The New Yorker and elsewhere, fewer and fewer students are majoring in English, and many of those who do (along with their teachers) have turned away from canonical works of literature toward contemporary writing and pop culture…Beyond the educational sphere lie technological perils familiar and new: engines of distraction like streaming (what we used to call TV) and TikTok; the post-literate alphabets of emojis and acronyms; the dark enchantments of generative A.I. While we binge and scroll and D.M., the robots, who are doing more and more of our writing, may also be taking over our reading…”

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