There seems to be more and more conversations lately floating around concerning the idea of aliteracy. By definition, a literate person who doesn’t read is an aliterate. Put another way, an aliterate is someone who knows how to read but chooses not to.

Not books. Not magazines. Not newspapers.


According to the New York Times

illiteracy is primarily a problem of the third world. But it is the United States that appears to be leading the way in aliteracy — the rejection of books by (those) who know how to read but choose not to.

We can talk about the millennials and Web 2.0 and how the world is flat. But can we ignore the fact that more and more of us get our information and ideas in sound bites rather than in substantial chunks?

And while aliteracy seems to be growing among our students, apparently it’s more than just kids. It’s us.

Okay. So I’m sitting at a “Literacy Institute” and I’m surprised by a comment from a teacher who says she doesn’t like to read. Doesn’t like to read? An elementary teacher, in charge of teaching kids to READ, doesn’t like to READ herself?

As someone who has the chance to work with lots of history and social studies teachers, I see tons of literate and articulate people. Teachers like TJ Warsnak, Jake Gundun and Kurt Harder. But unfortunately, I also get the chance to see teachers like the ones Mrs. TG mentions above.

I don’t really read history books.

David McCullough? Who’s that?

No, I don’t have any favorite authors.

The last history book I read was for some college class.

To paraphrase Mrs. TG, are ya kidding me?

It is possible to be a history aliterate. It’s just hard for me to imagine trying to teach history without having read people like Barbara Tuchman, Francis Parkman, Stephen Ambrose, Daniel J. Boorstin, Joseph Ellis, Toni Morrison, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, James McPherson, David Halberstam, Tony Horowitz, Studs Terkel, Elie Wiesel and Jared Diamond. Or even historical fiction writers such as James Mitchner and Michael Shaara.

Maybe there are reasons for this. But I’m having trouble trying to figure out what they might be.

Historians and social critics have long noted that a recurring theme in American politics is anti-intellectualism. And it seems as if that theme is drifting over into history instruction.

Is it just me? Or is this a trend that should frighten all of us?