March 29, 2007

And then came Dick and Jane

Lileks has a good post quoting some factoids from the “A Manual of Radio News Writing” written in 1947.

The book describes the Average Listener, and it’s an interesting snapshot of American culture in 1947:

“His formal education stopped somewhere between the end of grammar school and the second year of high school.”

The average person – or, more accurately, the average radio news consumer – did not finish high school. Interesting.

“In general, he reads slowly, leisurely, and not too widely or deeply.”

But he reads.

“Newspaper reading is an ingrained habit.”

Wow. To repeat: the average radio news consumer is a high-school drop out who’s also a habitual newspaper reader.

What the hell happened to today's high school grads?


Unknown said...

Legal age for dropout is still 16 in many places. Correct me if I'm wrong.


Got to get back to the farm.

Hasn't changed in a hundred years. (Again, correct me if I'm wrong.)

KDeRosa said...

I think that's right. It made the news recently that one state was taking the step to raise the dropout age to 18 like it was a big deal.

KDeRosa said...

It was New Mexico.

Dave said...

I believe you meant to ask what happened to yesterday's elementary school grads.

Anonymous said...

And then came Dick and Jane.

The decline in the expected level of reading in the schools had been dropping since before Dick and Jane. One can quantitatively compare the vocabulary and grammatical complexity of readers from the 1880s (McGuffey's), the 1930s (Elson-Gray ... precursors to Dick & Jane) and the 1950s (Dick & Jane).

An Elson-Gray 6th grade reader was about as difficult as a McGuffey's 4½th grade reader. By the 1950s, a Dick and Jane 6th grade reader was about as difficult as a McGuffey's 4th in vocabulary and as difficult as a McGuffey's 2nd in grammar.

Things had gone down hill by Dick & Jane, but it isn't like things hadn't been sliding for a while before then.

The readers used today are more challenging than Dick & Jane, but I don't know by how much.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Not another McGuffey myth-monger. *sighs*

McGuffey's 4th Reader was NOT for fourth grade. It was for, roughly, late middle school to early high schoo. Every reader was meant to last multiple years. Originally, it only went to the third reader becasue very few kids ever went beyong that (about 6th grade level). The additional readers were added for high school use once more people began attending.

My great-grandmother, who married in the early 1900s, was taken out of school after third grade so that she could care for her 11--yes, 11--siblings. This was not unusual at all. She was always very bitter about that and emphasized education to her three children. (She was also a big proponent of birth control. Child #3 was a mistake.)

Elson-Gray's books are easier because they are meant to be read at a rate of one per year. McGuffey's readers were not. Books were WAY too expensive for that (the parents did have to pay, not the schools), and anyway, most kids attended school far too irregularly to have a really long curriculum. The books were as slender and as brief as possible for a reason.

I read a lot of historical letters in my line of work, and the average person online today is far, far more literate than the average letter-writer in the 19th-c....never mind all the people who were too illiterate to write letters! As far as the average person's reading goes...well, they probably could if they help a finger under the words and said them aloud. I'm really not kidding. By 1947, this had changed so that most people were reasonably literate, and since there was no competition for reading, most people read.

The final state to pass a compulsory education law did so in 1918. Mandatory attendance was typically from ages 8 to 14. So mandatory attendance has changes a great deal over the past 100 years and varies considerably from state to state.

People quote silly statistics about "how low" illieracy used to be in the 1800s in the US. Back then, illiteracy was defined as unable to read and write one's own name. Today, functional literacy is put at a 6th grade level. Yet the people who now can't read on a 6th grade level are about the same as those who couldn't even write their names in the 1800s!


Anonymous said...

BTW, Dick and Jane is still crap. Whole language is still crap. But arguments work better when the facts are right.