Dana Gioia : “Why Literature Matters”
Author Dana Gioia, in her article “Why Literature Matters,” cites to relevant statistics and other reliable sources, such as surveys of business leaders and articles surveying business leaders, as well as apt descriptive and emotional language to bolster her logic connecting a decline in literacy to serious social problems, problems that can destroy our society, if they are not fixed – e.g., reduced productivity, ineffective governments elected by ignorant voters with poor reasoning skills, and the like. Her argument is very effective, and frightening.
In the first Paragraph, Gioia cites a paradox – while wealth and access to higher education has ballooned over the past quarter-century, interest in literature and the arts has actually decreased. This engages the reader and makes him or her want to read on.
In the second paragraph, Gioia cites to a study showing a precipitous decline in participation in 8 or 9 art forms covered by a survey commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”), and performed by the Bureau of the Census, a presumably authoritative source. That study shows that relatively few young adults age 18-24 are reading literature, or at least were as of 2002. Gioia describes this state of affairs as “worrisome,” using emotional language to appeal to the reader and make the reader concerned about these study results.
In the third paragraph, Gioia states that reading literature is declining among people who are at a time in their life when they can benefit from it most. The author states that the literature is necessary at a “crucial time of intellectual and emotional development” in young people’s lives, using powerful descriptive language to bolster her argument. Gioia apparently uses the word “literature” to mean fiction such as novels and plays, because she continues by stating that this problem could be mitigated by young adults reading of “histories” and “biographies,” “political works,” and other nonfiction. The author then explains that reading of all types is on the decline, but does not specify where she obtained that information – if it was from the same NEA study, or from some other reliable source.
In the fourth paragraph, Gioia states “That such a longstanding and fundamental cultural activity should slip so quickly signifies deep transformations in contemporary life,” again using advanced and powerful descriptive language to emphasize how shocking and important this reduction in reading rates is. Gioia then emphasizes that the NEA published these results as a separate portion of the report with the alarmist title “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.” This strengthens the author’s argument that the decline in reading rates is very significant, since a prominent government entity believes it to be important enough to be worthy of its own published report.
In the fifth paragraph, Gioia answers the question some may have on their minds, namely, “Why should I care if young adults read or not?” The writer cites to the February (presumably 2005, when this article was written) issue of Wired magazine, in which contributor Daniel Pink cited “business leaders” as stating they sought the “ability to craft a satisfying narrative” (i.e., tell a story), to think creatively and non-linearly, to “create beauty,” and other “aptitudes decidedly literary in character” as attributes of leaders – the people who they want to see become managers. In other words, the skill set gained from reading, and better yet, writing, literature is likely to get a student into the board room of a corporation, instead of its mailroom.
In the sixth paragraph, Gioia refers to a 2001 study by the National Association of Manufacturers, in which business leaders complain of “poor reading skills” as a major and common deficiency in their workforces, and in which 38 percent of the respondents claimed that schools fail to properly teach reading comprehension.
In the seventh and eighth paragraphs, Gioia shows that a failure to learn reading comprehension similarly has degraded American politicial life. The author cites to a 2003 study of the civic knowledge of people between ages 15 and 23 by the National Conference of State Legislatures which bluntly stated that “Young people simply do not understand the ideals of citizenship … and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited.” That is indeed a powerful indictment of a non-reading contingent of young Americans. Gioia then ties this lack of political understanding to the declining reading rates by citing the “Reading at Risk” survey for the fact that readers are roughly four times more likely to participate in civic events such as visits to museums, sporting events, or perform charity work, perhaps as a result of greater civic and historical knowledge. This could perhaps be argued against by positing that people with more time to read probably also have more time and are more likely to have the financial means to attend civic events and volunteer for charity. Poor people aren’t likely to have time or money to go to museums and volunteer, or to read books – they’re busy working to survive. But I digress.
In the final two paragraphs, Gioia reiterates the article’s main point, that advanced literacy is an essential skill for technologically advanced democracy, and that, in fact, such a society cannot survive – or as Gioia put it, remain “free, innovative, or productive” - without many people who have advanced literacy skills, which are developed by reading literature. Gioia notes the “noble” efforts of schools and public libraries, but asserts that political intervention is needed, and that literacy should be a high-profile public issue. This may remind the reader of some of the less intelligent public figures he or she sees on television or reads about in the news. Gioia’s conclusion is both alarming and compelling, given the dire political and economic consequences of limited literacy that she cites in her article.
All in all, Gioia’s use of emotional and powerful descriptive language, her citation to reliable government sources for statistics and survey results on declining literacy rates, and her use of logic to connect serious social issues to seemingly minor issue such as reduced reading provides the reader with a convincing argument for government and business intervention to the reverse the decline in literacy.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.