In a 2005 speech to the American Library Association, then-senator Obama described his view of the importance of literacy: “In this new economy, teaching our kids just enough so that they can get through Dick and Jane isn't going to cut it,” he said. “The kind of literacy necessary for 21st-century employment requires detailed understanding and complex comprehension.” Education secretary Arne Duncan’s response to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress earlier this week reinforced a pragmatic approach to literacy: “If America's students are to remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy, our public schools must greatly accelerate the rate of progress of the last four years and do more to narrow America's large achievement gaps. It is an urgent moral and economic imperative that our schools do a better job of preparing students for today's globally-competitive world.”
Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers. But we worry that discussions of reading, especially public policy discussions, focus almost exclusively on its utilitarian value. What’s missing is the pleasure readers derive from the reading they do.
Our new research on the nature and variety of the pleasure avid adolescent readers take from their out-of-school reading (Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them) demonstrates that pleasure is not incidental to reading—it’s essential. Indeed, we found that the young people with whom we worked spoke of their reading pleasure with remarkable sophistication—and their pleasure supported the intense and high-level engagement with texts that schools seek to foster.