How television destroys reading comprehension

I am not a big fan of television.  I’m not really what one might call a fan of motion pictures, except for the ones that have really had something to say.  Das Leben der Anderen (The lives of others) is one that comes to mind.  It has what is, for me, the tenderest and most profound ending of any movie I’ve ever seen.  So yes, there is a place for movies: I’m not a Luddite.

My experience as a second grade teacher has shown me that the skill most critical to reading comprehension in the young is the ability to identify the setting of a story.  Setting is so important that in books aimed at the primary grade students all have pictures in them; the pictures help the reader see where the story is taking place.  This helps immensely.  Have you ever been reading a story only to find that Harry is suddenly in an elevator with Pauline?  How the heck did they get there?!  A good reader is not one who is never confronted with these problems: a good reader is one who recognizes when he or she is lost and cannot reason why the setting has changed and goes back into the story to re-read and find out.

What does the moving image do to the brain’s ability to develop the specific attentive ability of sifting out extraneous information and putting a setting together out of meaningful descriptors and signs?  I would argue that movies — which are, really, stories read to us by multiple readers — spoon-feed us visual images that leave no doubt as to setting.  As long as we’re having someone else do the job for us, why should we expect our brains to sift through the dialogue to determine where the story is taking place?  It is an unnecessary skill in movies.  And what you do not use, you lose.

That’s my serendipitous thought for the evening.


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