Here’s a bit of the abstract of some big deal research titled ‘Family scholarly culture and educational success: books and schooling in 27 nations’. It is authored by MDR Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora and Donald J. Treiman, and it comes from the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 28 (2010) 171-197 (for those of you with access to a university library). Michael Rosen quotes it on his blog and has spiced it up with his own comments in square brackets.
‘Children growing up in homes with many books – [ later defined in the research as around 500 books ] – get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes… [ Yes, yes, yes, we might say here, of course they do. We know that. Children from homes with 500 books are middle class homes, with at least one parent who has had a university education who sits and reads to their children every night and goes to museums every weekend. Yes, yes, yes tell me something new… ] …independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class. [ What? Seriously? Are you saying, Evans et al, that a home with 500 books, with both parents having no education beyond 16, both working in a factory as production workers results in children getting 3 more years schooling than children from similar homes but without the books????!!!! ] This [ 500 books in the home ] is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father….
1. This makes me feel like I’ve done at least one bit of parenting right (humble brag).
2. Digital books don’t count. Since Apple brought out the retina display I’ve read a lot of books on my phone, but my kids have no idea about those books (although my daughter read Winnie the Pooh on her iPod). They aren’t stuffed into our bookcases or left laying around the house. Unlike our family’s paper books, my ebooks aren’t available for discovery. I doubt my kids would have wanted to read Kester Brewin’s Mutiny, but if they had seen it in paper book form, they probably would have asked about the pirate book I was reading, sparking a really good conversation about pirates, the commons and church.
Bother. Now I wish I had shelled out a few more pounds for the real version.
Digital books readers turn books from things available to be discovered by everyone who lived in or visited a house into private things that belong only to an individual. When we replace paper books with digital books we are literally stealing education from our kids. Yes, you can share iTunes and Kindle accounts. Yes, you can give your kids access to your digital books and buy digital books for them. Yes, sharing is improving and will continue to improve. But right now, while our kids are growing up, paper books in our houses give them a life advantage that they won’t get from books on screens. Books hidden behind an app button can’t call to us like books shouting from a wall of bookshelves.
Buy real books. Fill your house with them. Read to your kids. It’s worth three years of education.