Monday, August 09, 2010

Books in the home

Like many homeschoolers, we have a large personal library. I estimate that we have over 100+ feet of shelf space devoted to books. We have built-in bookcases in our front room around our fireplace. We have a book case in the kitchen, our bedroom and at the end of the hall. We have two bookcases in the our office. We have a two walls of built in bookcases in our family room, as well as two half-size bookcases that run along the third wall. In that room, only doors and entryways are bookless.

So, it is with much satisfaction that I read about this study.

Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations
(Note: It costs $31.50 to purchase the article.)

From the press release:

RENO, Nev. – Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study lead by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.

This study reminds me of the Home Educated and Now Adults research which found that even less educated parents could successfully homeschool. I imagine that personal libraries contributed to their success.

Yet again, we can see that it is the quality of the home and the attributes of the parents that propel educational achievement.


Crimson Wife said...

My great-grandparents were Irish immigrants with little in the way of formal education or disposable income. Yet according to my grandfather and great-aunts & uncles their modest home boasted a sizable library. Apparently my great-grandfather loved to recite Shakespeare and Yeats in his brogue. I wish I'd could've heard him but sadly he passed away when my grandfather was only 13.

Sebastian said...

It's not just the presence of books that matters. A family that cherishes books enough to gather them, find space, buy or build bookshelves for them, etc, is also a family that is going to read them, talk about them, have a library card (to get access to other books) and believe that the information in the books is important.
In other words, (at least in my opinion) the books are an indicator of a family that values knowledge and lifelong learning. The books don't cause the education to just happen.

Though I'd also say that I think books are addictive and that a program to give away good books would be well worth the investment.

Adam said...

I echo what Sebastian wrote and I'll take it even further. These studies are interesting in that they show interesting correlation, but rarely draw conclusions about causality. This study is similar to the one that showed that it's more important that books are in the home vs. that the children were read to. I think what all of these point to are that parents that collect books in the home are probably doing many other things to create a rich learning environment at home. For example, while I don't read as much to my youngest daughter as I did to my older children, there are books, learning toys, and activities engrained into our daily life that encourage exploration and curiosity.

Jennifer Lavender said...

Can I play devil's advocate, just a little bit? I won't deny that there is a great connection between having books in the home and academic achievement. I'm just curious if it's the books that really cause higher achievement, or if the books are just a side effect of being in a family that values education to begin with. It's hard to tell what exactly causes the change. I won't be removing the books from my home to find out though.

Janine Cate said...

I agree that it is not just the presence of the books that makes difference, but that the family cared enough to use limited resources to acquire them.

I don't think if we gave every household 500 books, it would make any difference because they wouldn't value them.

The researcher said,

“What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead?” she asked. “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed.”

Evans said, “Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

“You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she said. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

This comment makes me think that Evans assumes that providing funding to give books to children whose parents don't value books enough to provide them for their children will somehow make a difference.

I don't think it works that way. Libraries and schools give books away all the time. If you really wanted books in your home, you would have them.

I would like to see a follow up study to track the effectiveness of providing "free" books. (Free, meaning free to the recipient, not the tax payer. Will such a program work as well as a "free" government education?

S said...

I think that there is a definite benefit to just having books in your home. I grew up in a home where books were plentiful, and if I was bored, the books were there. Going to the library is something that you have to plan and take time for. But if you have the books in your home, they are always there for whenever your child wants to read them.