Volume:6, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2014

Crisis of the reading culture as a threat to the national wellbeing
Cheremisinova, Larissa I. [about] , Firsova, Tatyana G. [about]

KEY WORDS: reading, a risk factor, crisis of reading, reading as an independent value, early school age.
ABSTRACT: The article discussed the notion of “reading” in a wide sociocultural aspect. Crisis of reading culture is explained as a social risk factor and a threat to national wellbeing. The authors suggest means of solving the problem of reading intensification and increase of functional literacy. The article provides and summarizes the results of the study of reading activity typical for Saratov schoolchildren from Grades  2-4.

“If an individual does not read, it is his/her personal problem. If the whole country does not read, it is the national tragedy” (Ioseph Brodsky). These words are especially relevant for the modern sociocultural situation. The problems of literacy, education, culture, and reading are of utmost importance because they are closely related to the nation’s future viability and wellbeing. According to E.I. Morozova, “a neglect of reading today has reached its critical limit, and if no measures are taken, the core of national culture will be destroyed” (1).

In the context of modern sociocultural changes nature, content, and functions of reading are transforming. For instance, an interest to genres represented in a visual format such as detectives, thrillers, horror stories, comics, has increased due to the influence of the TV and video clips. Reading tends to become just pragmatic and functional, and the perception of reading – pixelated and superficial.

Decrease of interest to reading in the recent decades has become a global tendency. According to UNESCO, more than 771 million adults cannot read, and about 100 million children do not attend school. An overwhelming majority of the illiterate lives in 35 poorest countries of the world, but there are many of them in the developed countries as well (2). The alarming tendency towards the increase of functional illiteracy among the significant part of the population is in the offing, i.e. the loss of reading and writing skills to the point when a person is not able to perceive a short and simple text. In the 1990s in Canada, almost a quarter of the population was functionally illiterate; Germany had around four million secondary illiterate people. In 1996, 20% of France population was secondary illiterate.

According to the experts’ opinion, functional illiteracy is one of the main reasons for unemployment, car crashes, occupational and home accidents, and traumas. English sociologists and economists showed the direct correlation between reading and work efficiency and, as a consequence, country’s economic power. The U.S. researcher Jonathan Kozol presented some figures about functionally illiterate Americans in 1985 and made a conclusion: “Illiteracy demands a heavy duty from our economy, it influences our political system, and more importantly, the life of illiterate Americans” (3).

A Russian researcher V.P. Chudinova in her paper “Reading children as a national treasure” provides statistical data that shows direct correlation between a crime level and functional illiteracy. She points it out that: “In the beginning of the 21st century 60% of the adult prisoners in the U.S. prisons were functionally illiterate or semiliterate and 85% of the young criminals have troubles reading, writing, and using basic mathematics” (4).

A decrease in the percentage of actively reading population leads to a lack of knowledge and constructive ideas in the society, influences the quality of human resources, the formation of moral and spiritual values and paradigms. Semiliterate members of the society who are not able to read serious literature comprise groups of individuals who are at social and cultural risk. Their incompetency may lead to negative consequences because of the inconsiderate socially significant decisions, inability to put sentences correctly, misunderstanding the meaning of words and ideas from the sources written in their native language. All the aforementioned prevent the state from the stable development and successful problem solving.

Starting from the late 1970-s – early 1980-s and especially at present, the developed countries keep active discussions of the problem of “reading crisis” because the consequences of this crisis may influence economic, social, and spiritual life of the nation negatively. Representatives of cultural, intellectual, political, and business elites are looking for effective means and task-oriented contra-measures. In France, there has been created the Department for book and reading affairs that has set up the policy with regard of all the “book’s path” – from the moment it has been created to the moment it has been suggested to the readers. The U.S. policy in reading is run by the Center for the Book possessing the authority of a government agency and is part of Library of Congress. Germany has German Reading Foundation (1988) that represents a “workshop for ideas” aimed at supporting any organization aspiring to spark interest to reading—— school, library, book-selling companies, kindergarten, and family.

Due to the significance of reading expansion problems more and more international and Russian organizations turn to them: UN, UNESCO, World Health Organization (WHO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); under their aegis international research on the level of literacy progress PISA and PIRLS are held; International Reading Association (IRA); Russian Reading Association (RRA); IFLA. Reading  Section, Russian School Library Association; Russian Library Association. Round Table for Reading, non-profit foundation "Pushkin Library", section "Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading" of the Russian Psychological Society; Development Center of the Russian language under the aegis of which "BibliObraz" runs; Foundation for the Support of Reading named after N.A. Rubakin.

In the recent years a state policy support of reading and literacy has been established in Russia: in 2007, the RF Government approved “The National Program for Reading Support and Progress” (Moscow: Interregional Library Cooperation Center, 2007); Reading Centers have been opened; social events aimed at sparking interest to reading among the youth have been arranged (advertising, social projects, culture and entertainment programs, etc.).

However, regardless of the efforts undertaken to promote the necessity of reading, the number of “readers but not really reading people” (P.A. Vyazemsky) will increase. The goal should be different – to create a personal attitude to reading when it becomes a value and a source of aesthetic joy; and we have almost lost such an attitude, it tends to become more and more rare. It is even less typical for the younger schoolchildren, the category of readers that has always had emotional sympathy and genuine interest to reading books. The research we conducted in 2013 with the schoolchildren from Grades 2 to 4 fully proved this conclusion. 284 schoolchildren from 30 Saratov schools participated in the survey. 

We asked them whether reading was a value for them or not. The questionnaire was created by L.N. Makarova, a graduate student from School of Psychological, Pedagogical, and Special Education of Saratov State University named after N.G. Chernyshevsky.” The questions are composed in such a way that allows schoolchildren to choose a preferred option from the suggested ones or put together and write their own ideas. (This is in case none of the options reflects their personal points of view). Below are the questions and statements we asked:

  1. Complete the statement: Reading for me is… (a value, creativity, work, cognition, self-actualization, necessity, joy, increase of my cultural and intellectual level, pleasure, useless time, preparing for school, a punishment invented by adults, type of rest, or something else. Give your own option).
  2. What are your motives for reading? Please, choose no more than 3 options. (For school, for my own pleasure, for rest, for entertainment, for self-education, for creativity, to escape reality, out of boredom, because of lack of communication, by force of habit, or something else. Give your own option).
  3. What is a book for you? (A source of spiritual knowledge, source of aesthetic joy, source of thinking and mental development, or something else. Give your own option).
  4. Do you agree with the following statements? (Please, choose one option in each line).
Statements No Probably not Probably yes Yes Hard to say
In the modern world reading strengthens the good in a person.          
Books and reading will soon disappear because of the Internet pressure.          
A well-read person is automatically an intellectual.          
A good book has always something left unsaid that makes you come back to reading it again in different life periods.          
No good fiction book is possible without a positive character.          
Reading provides individual freedom.          
A modern person can do without reading.          
Reading gives food to one’s own thoughts and creativity.          

While analyzing the answers, we definitely remembered children’s age and gender.

Let us start first with the younger schoolchildren’s answers to the questions aimed at showing their motivation for reading which in turn influence usefulness and sufficiency of text perception, in accordance with L.I. Belyaeva’s findings [5].

The questionnaire showed that 24% of boys and 27% of girls from the 2nd Grade read “for school”, the second largest group of respondents reads “for self-education” (20% and 17% accordingly). The rest of the participants reads in order “to escape from reality” (3% of boys), “out of boredom” (3% of boys and 1% of girls), “because of lack of communication” (2% each) and “by force of habit” (2% of boys and 3% of girls).

The most popular motive for third graders is “for school” (24% of boys and 30% of girls). 18% of boys and 19% of girls chose “for self-education”. The rest of the students read “because of lack of communication” (3% of boys) and “by force of habit” (3% of boys and 2% of girls).

The results for the 4th Grade students showed that the majority of boys read “for school” and “for self-education” (24% and 20% accordingly), the minority of students read “for their own pleasure”, “for rest”, and “for creativity” (10%, 11%, 10%). Finally, the smallest group of boys suggested options “because of lack of communication” and “by force of habit” (5% and 1% accordingly).

The 4th Grade schoolgirls read “for pleasure” and “for school” (23% and 20% accordingly). The second largest group of girls reads “for rest”, “for self-education”, and “for creativity” (14%, 13%, 12%). The least number of girls have chosen the option “because of lack of communication” and “by force of habit” (1%, 2% accordingly).

It is clear that the options showing fascination with reading and an emotional absorption into the book are not really popular with the younger schoolchildren: motives of joy, satisfaction, “reading for one’s own pleasure” occur rarely. The overall analysis shows that a pragmatic function of reading, mostly directed towards extracting some relevant information from the book, is most common among children of this age group.

Answers to the question “What is a book for you?” showed that the majority of the 2nd Grade students saw the book as a “source of thinking and mental development” (64% of boys, 74% of girls). Options like “a source of spiritual cognition” and “a source of aesthetic joy” turned out to be less popular: 18% of boys have chosen each of these options, and 12% and 14% of girls have chosen these options accordingly.

The third graders as well as the second ones preferred an option “a source of thinking and mental development” (70% of boys and 74% of girls). A book is a “source of spiritual cognition” for 17% of them, and this is the second popular option. The least number of votes was given to the option “a source of aesthetic joy” (13 % of boys and 12% of girls).

The forth graders were asked the same question. The following results were obtained: as in the other age groups the most popular option is “a source of thinking and mental development” (69% of boys and 62% of girls), and a variant  “a source of spiritual cognition” (21%, 29% accordingly) was less popular. 10% of boys and 9% of girls have chosen an answer - “a source of aesthetic joy”.

Summing up the questionnaire results, we can build an hierarchy of reading motives in the younger schoolchildren: the leading position is taken by the pragmatic and cognitive motives, they are followed by self-identification and narrow-personal motives, and they all are rounded out by the aesthetic motives. The present results prove that reading for elementary schoolchildren is only functional and pragmatic. Joy of reading, submerging into the world of books and receiving satisfaction from reading are not meaningful for this age group, and not important in their hierarchy of values.

One of the explanations for this we find in methods of teaching literature in elementary schools. Too much logic is expected while reading and extracting information, reducing the content to an elementary "moral message", traditional underestimation of a "formal" side of books – all these factors influence children’s artistic development and their motivation for reading.

Another all-encompassing reason is the following: in the changed sociocultural situation where computers have taken a dominant position in the hierarchy of schoolchildren’s values, they do not only replace reading, but they are also substitutes for communication and games with peers.

The obtained data reveals the existing contradiction. On the one hand, aesthetic motives for reading have lost their importance for children, being substituted with more pragmatic and cognitive ones (typology of motives by M.P. Voyushinoy, 6). On the other hand, the very concept of "culture of reading" allows to emphasize the idea of a productive creative activity while reading. In this case reading is perceived as an aesthetic activity that satisfies children’s need to enjoy beauty, to communicate with the art and express themselves within it, to develop an artistic outlook, an aesthetic taste, creative skills and abilities together with the aspiration to contribute beauty to an everyday life.

Overcoming this contradiction is vital because only productive creative activities could return genuine values ​​(artistic, moral, ethical, spiritual, etc.) of reading. Only under these conditions schoolchildren will perceive reading not as “hard work” or “torture” but as joy and creativity.


  1. Morozova I.G. Formation of inter-cultural competences with the help of fiction texts in the modern foreign language education. Electronic resource. URL: http://www.hse.ru/ (accessed on: 16.10.2014).
  2. Vorontsov A.V. Reading as a social problem. Electronic resource. URL: ftp://lib.herzen.spb.ru/text/vorontsov_chtenie2009.pdf (accessed on: 26.05.2014).
  3. Chudinova V.P. (1999). Reading children as a national treasure. Electronic resource. URL: http://www.polemics.ru (accessed on: 16.10.2014). Also refer to: Plotnikov S.N. Reading and ecology of culture // Homo legens. In memory of Sergei Nikolaevich Plotnikov (1929-1995). Moscow: House of Intellectual Book.
  4. Chudinova V.P. (2009). Reading children as a national treasure // Prosveshchenie. 1(23). March. P. 5.
  5. Belyaeva L.I. (1975). On the question of readers’ typology // Questions of sociology and psychology of reading: Collection of articles. Moscow: Kniga, 146-160.
  6. Method of determining the motives of reading and literary-creative activity in the schoolchildren (2010) // Methods of teaching literature in the primary school: textbook for higher educational institution students / Edited by M.P. Voyushina. Moscow: Publishing Center Academia, 49-55.


Cheremissinova, Larissa I., [In Russian: Лариса Ивановна Черемисинова], Ph.D., Chair, Professor, Department of Primary Linguistic and Literary Education, Saratov State University named after N.G. Chernyshevsky; Firsova, Tatyana G., [In Russian: Татьяна Геннадьевна Фирсова], Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Primary Linguistic and Literary Education, Saratov State University named after N.G. Chernyshevsky, Saratov, Russia.

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