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View Full Version : The Dumbing Down of America Continues



sandymae2000
05-26-2005, 07:11 PM
Barnes & Noble books retell literary classics using simpler words.
(copied from Freelancewriting.com)

Are they nuts? Why do we, as a society, continue to lower the bar regarding literacy? Instead of encouraging students to strive, we give them lower expectations. Soon anyone will be reading Cliff Notes!

I'm better now. I just had to share this.

Sandy

maestrowork
05-26-2005, 07:16 PM
I think it depends on the reading levels they're targeting. If they're trying to push, say, Tom Sawyer or Lord of the Rings to 6yos, or ESL students, I have no problem with that. When I was a kid, I read the "dumbed down" version of Tom Sawyer and enjoyed it immensely. It's a few years later when I read the real thing.

ChunkyC
05-26-2005, 08:26 PM
I know what you are saying Maestro, but changing books like that bugs me too, primarily because that's not the way the book was written. If the book is too advanced for a certain age, then it is too advanced. I can't stand abridged or Reader's Digest versions of books. They should be left the way the author wrote them, word for word. Otherwise, it is no longer the same book.

Just MHO.

JoeEkaitis
05-26-2005, 09:18 PM
I found a "school library edition" of The Wind in the Willows in a remainder bin. An "Editor's Note" on the copyright page stated "The chapters 'Dolce Domum' and 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' have been omitted, as they interrupt the flow of Toad's adventures and would be distracting to younger readers."

"Dolce Domum" and "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" are the only chapters that contain Christian and pagan references, respectively. Kinda makes ya wonder why the chapters were REALLY axed, don't it?

Paint
05-26-2005, 09:19 PM
So what do we expect? Organized Religion no longer controls the masses.

Conspiracy Theory 101

:Soapbox:

mdin
05-26-2005, 09:29 PM
This is nothing new. I had a whole shelf of Robert Lewis Stevenson classics that were shortened and dumbed down.

William Haskins
05-26-2005, 09:34 PM
read orwell (and not the dumbed down versions).

all questions shall be answered.

Maryn
05-26-2005, 09:52 PM
Its not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you. -- Frank Zappa

ChunkyC
05-26-2005, 10:02 PM
"There's a brightness knob on the TV, but it doesn't seem to work."
-- Gallagher

thistle
05-26-2005, 10:49 PM
When I taught high school English, I had colleagues who hated the adapted versions of classics.

However, as a teacher who worked with ESL and special needs students, I see the need for texts that deliver the curriculum and meet the intellectual hunger of these kids. Not reading well isn't an indication of intelligence, it's an indication of...not reading well. My kids who read the adapted versions of novels had the accomplishment of reading a whole novel and they were able to discuss the novel's themes, plot, and characters with their peers.

My philosophy is: "What's best for kids?"

If a kid needs the adapted version, I'm OK with that. I can't see turning a kid off to classics by shoving a text down his throat. Not only will that kid hate reading, me, and the Odyssey, but I'll hate it too.

I did a really interesting interview the other day with a nationally known reading specialist. (Doug Buehl, you're my hero.) I asked him if he liked to read. He said, "Sometimes." He went on to say that if the reading material was at his level and interested him, he liked to read. If it was a tax form or a legal document, then he didn't like to read.

Our conversation went on and we talked about multiple entry points for readers. If a graphic novel or adapted version hooks someone on reading, who are we to judge? Everyone needs a starting point. Research supports maestro's experience: easier reading (graphic novels, adapted versions) leads to more advanced reading choices.

With the competition from TV, the Internet, video games, etc. it's great that people are interested in reading at all, in any form. We should celebrate and honor their choices.

Of course, I'm somewhat of a hypocrite. I drew the line at the side-by-side Shakespeare texts. **sigh** I just couldn't do it to Will. Those side-by-side texts and their translations make me cringe. The students liked my Sh. unit, and they did well. Plenty of acting, plenty of silliness. Lots of learning, lots of good, tragic fun.

Unique
05-26-2005, 11:09 PM
Teach our children to read well and they won't need to read the dumbed down versions.

maestrowork
05-26-2005, 11:31 PM
Not every kid can or will reach that level. I would rather them read and learn and know the stories of Mark Twain or Hemingway instead of telling them... oh, wait until you're 12.

I for one was glad that I read Tom Sawyer, albeit the abridged version, at such a young age. I wanted a story more than just Winnie the Pooh and Mr. Bee. If anything, it helped me understand the pleasure of reading. And I did pick up the real version when I was a bit older...

I don't think I was "dumbed down" in anyway. In fact, it helped spur my interest in learning more English...

Unique
05-26-2005, 11:40 PM
Yes, Ray, I understand. But were you a child then? Do you have a child in the public system school now? I have been a reading tutor and when I see how those children were left (and WHY) they were left behind reading wise...it makes my skin crawl. It is a good thing that 'easier' versions exist. Not everyone in the US can or will read optimally. But the topic of this thread was "DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA'. It is happening, I've watched it happen, and I continue to watch it happen. And that my friend, is NOT a good thing. Lowest common denominator serves no one.

maestrowork
05-27-2005, 12:11 AM
I think the dumbing down has more to do with the reading levels/sophistication of "best sellers" than offering abridged versions of classics. I mean, I can always pick up a real Mark Twain book and read it (much like children reading "abridged" Bible stories would one day pick up the Bible and read it for real...) But I'd be hard pressed to find a "smarted up" version of the Da Vinci Code anytime soon....

;)

mommie4a
05-27-2005, 12:26 AM
Do you have a child in the public system school now? I have been a reading tutor and when I see how those children were left (and WHY) they were left behind reading wise...it makes my skin crawl. It is a good thing that 'easier' versions exist. Not everyone in the US can or will read optimally. But the topic of this thread was "DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA'. It is happening, I've watched it happen, and I continue to watch it happen. And that my friend, is NOT a good thing. Lowest common denominator serves no one.

I have two kids in the public school system (Ohio). My youngest is in a Montessori Pre-K (Which is really preschool/PreK and Kindergarten in one classroom - that's the way Montessori works). I've spent a lot of hours in my kids' school and around elementary school kids.

I have a passionate dislike for No Child Left Behind specifically because it panders to the lowest common denominator and fails to attend at all to the needs of gifted students.

That said, this issue, IMHO, is very much chicken and egg. Parents still drive the agenda when you're talking about educational materials - through their votes, through their behavior, through their words expressed to and around children. But as young people grow up to expect less in terms of sophistication (take newspapers and even magazines for example), what are you going to do? Keep these materials over their head and become elitist?

I'm just acknowledging that this is an extremely tricky balance. We want people to be informed, but everyone doesn't have the same level of interest or ability. Is it fair to make a moral judgment on people because they want to get their news from People magazine instead of the newspaper's arts and leisure section (Which is looking more and more like People?)

Ditto with abridged books. Is it really ok to make moralistic judgments?

I think it's great and responsible to share the angst this trend evokes. I just don't want to turn it into a moral free for all. Just me.

Mr Underhill
05-27-2005, 12:33 AM
If it gets the American public to start reading books again, I'm all for it. That's both out of concern for society, and pure self-interest.

I'm very concerned about the dumbing down of everything the typical citizen of the world's (currently) most powerful nation is exposed to, such as the idiotic shouting heads on cable TV and talk radio. The solution is to get people reading more, and developing their critical thinking skills. When I first read The DaVinci Code I thought it was the most abysmal hackery, and despaired that such a poorly-constructed hodgepodge of half-baked conspiracy theories would be a year-long bestseller. Only in a society deprived of historical education, I thought. Since then I've changed my mind about the phenomenon. I listened to why people liked it. Almost to a person they said, "Well it really makes you think, you know?" That tells me that there is a real hunger out there for material that makes people think. People are questioning what they are being told, and that's good. Now it is our job to get them the skills to properly evaluate information for themselves, and to provide truly nutritious food for thought.

So again, if this will get people to pick up books again, there is a chance we can get them to progress on to more adult fare.

And I have to echo Ray's thought about ESL. English is now the lingua franca of the entire world, for better or worse. But English has something like 100,000 words in its vocabulary last time I checked. This is three or four times the word count of many other languages. So while we might expect the denizens of this board, as English-language creators, to be facile with perhaps half that many, and have the remainder ready to conjure, that is not a reasonable expectation for international English-speakers. A gentleman from Tashkent who is using English as a common tongue to communicate with a lady from Kinshasa would certainly be sticking with the limited core vocabulary. This is entirely proper, and helps avoid misunderstandings, as you will know if you have had to deal with international business partners even through translators.


I can't stand abridged or Reader's Digest versions of books.Hey now, don't knock the RD Condensed books. Those folks really know their business. Some authors have been known to read the condensations of their own work and not figure out what was excised. And between the fact that Word Processor Edema has the industry publishing books by the pound, and that cost-cutting has reduced the amount of editing authors receive, many of the books on the shelves today could probably benefit from the scalpels and liposuction of condensation editors. Also, you'll notice that most of their fare is pop fiction, and taking a hatchet to Mary Higgins Clark's work can only dumb it up in my opinion.

But the bottom line for all of this is how it is used. If it is used as "training wheels" that's great. If it is used to get international English-speakers acquainted with the classics, that's also good. But when American high-school seniors are reading Moby Rick, the 100-page whale tale told in words of fewer than three syllables (beginning with the immortal line Call me Izzy...), that's when I'll be getting upset.

maestrowork
05-27-2005, 12:41 AM
Well said, Underhill.

Mr Underhill
05-27-2005, 12:52 AM
Well said, Underhill.Thanks, Maestro. Though perhaps I should have taken my own advice about condensation, what? :Shrug:

ChunkyC
05-27-2005, 01:04 AM
Yes, well put, Underhill. A fine example of 'makes you think.'

Hey now, don't knock the RD Condensed books. Those folks really know their business.
I certainly can't deny that. I just personally don't like that kind of thing. My mother used to read them all the time and whenever I read one, all I could think was 'what's been cut? I want to read that too.'


But the bottom line for all of this is how it is used. If it is used as "training wheels" that's great. If it is used to get international English-speakers acquainted with the classics, that's also good. But when American high-school seniors are reading Moby Rick, the 100-page whale tale told in words of fewer than three syllables (beginning with the immortal line Call me Izzy...), that's when I'll be getting upset.
In a nutshell! It's the idea of an abridged version becoming a substitute for the original that makes me grind my teeth.

Unique
05-27-2005, 01:31 AM
Don't worry, ChunkyC, you didn't miss much. My mom had a whole collection of RD Condensed books & I went through one line by line with an original in the other hand. There wasn't that much missing. Most of the time it was individual words, sometimes a phrase, but I never did find a cut that changed anything significantly.

Jill, be thankful your kids are being educated in Ohio. Hateful as it is to say it, there is a vast difference in educational quality between the North & the South.
No Child Left Behind = All Children Left Behind. It's been stated that if a foreign power had tried to do what we have allowed to happen to our educational system, we would have been at war over it. I concur.

The DaVinci Code? Can't really voice an opinion on that one. I read the flyleaf, cracked it open, read a few paragraphs, put it back on the shelf.

There is a need for adult material written for different skill levels. But the point of the original post was that it shouldn't be for the majority - it should be for the minority with a special need. If standard curriculum weren't being dumbed down, homeschooling wouldn't be gaining thousands of students per year. Check the stats.

All ya'll have made good points - most of you more eloquently and succintly than I, but as writers - we need people who can read - or we will be writing those dumbed down versions.

sandymae2000
05-27-2005, 02:19 AM
Hi!

I'm glad to see such a spirited discussion has been sparked by my ranting.

There's some good points made here. I agree that no one should be left out, but they are being left out. Like Jill, I live in Ohio, in Cleveland. Our school system is in a shambles. We're laying off teachers, closing schools, and cutting reading programs. And, we're graduating less than 40% of our students. What are the other 60% going to do without a high school diploma? How are they going to support their children? How are they going to help them learn to read? It's a horrible, horrible cycle.

My other problem is the editing of books without the author's consent. Presumably, all the authors involved have been dead for years and the copyrights have long since expired. But, does that make it right? As a writer, this insults me. Why struggle for hours (days) over a sentence just to have some bookseller of the future revise it?

Ooops! I'm ranting again. (Sorry).

Sandy

mommie4a
05-27-2005, 05:34 AM
Hi!

I'm glad to see such a spirited discussion has been sparked by my ranting.

There's some good points made here. I agree that no one should be left out, but they are being left out. Like Jill, I live in Ohio, in Cleveland. Our school system is in a shambles. We're laying off teachers, closing schools, and cutting reading programs. And, we're graduating less than 40% of our students. What are the other 60% going to do without a high school diploma? How are they going to support their children? How are they going to help them learn to read? It's a horrible, horrible cycle.

My other problem is the editing of books without the author's consent. Presumably, all the authors involved have been dead for years and the copyrights have long since expired. But, does that make it right? As a writer, this insults me. Why struggle for hours (days) over a sentence just to have some bookseller of the future revise it?

Ooops! I'm ranting again. (Sorry).

Sandy

Sandy,

I ache for Cleveland, I really do. A good friend of mine was the 95th of 95 school psychologists in 03-04, got laid off last year (you recall the 900 or so jobs cut). Now this year, aren't they getting rid of ALL social workers too?

It should be against the law, honestly. I absolutely mean that and not in a flip way. ESPECIALLY in a city like Cleveland. Come on, people.