This is an important observation, which pulls the rug out from under the mantra - currently en vogue amongst theoretical educators (Theoretical educator - me? I'm at the chalk face!) - of the "bildungsferne Gesellschaftsschichten" ("social strata at a distance from education"). Maybe the idea that a lack of education is solely caused by a lack of money needs to be rethought. Wealth does not protect from ignorance - I mean, look at the Royal Family or Apricot Boomtown.
The culprits, according to Gaschke, are middle-class parents who - although still passively upholding old educational ideals - fail to practice what they preach:
Ein geübter Leser wird man nur durch … Üben. Und die Übung beginnt durch das Vorbild der Eltern, durch Vorlesen, Erzählen und Über-Geschichten-Sprechen.
[You only become a accomplished reader by ... practising. And practice begins with the parental model, with being read to, with telling and talking about stories].
Quite right. However, it seems that Gaschke is losing the argument when she elevates the cultural practice of reading to a moral act:
Warum aber ist Lesekompetenz heute überhaupt noch wichtig? Weil sich dem geübten Leser Fragen stellen, die auch im Leben wichtig sind: Worum geht es? Ist das, was ich lese, glaubwürdig? Ist Ironie im Spiel? Was empfinden die Figuren in einer Geschichte?
[But why is reading still important today? Because the accomplished reader is confronted with questions that are also relevant in real life: What is this about? Is the story I'm reading credible? Is it ironic? What do the characters feel?]
Her mission statement: "Only those who read are able to empathise with others".
Well, here we are back to the Arnoldian fallacy that literature is a quasi-religion! This clearly is too simplistic.
If that were the case, then I should be surrounded, in my professional life, by supremely empathetic creatures. If reading made us all better people, then university literature departments would be free from violent strife, petty squabbles and parochial vanities - they would be sanctuaries of shared concern, intellectual openness and mutual respect.
Reader, let me tell you: They are not!
Also, if Gaschke were right, then most of human history (and pre-history) would have been empathy-free: an illiterate world of ruthless murder and rapine without remorse and regret until the Frankfurt Book Fair came along (but then again Zeit arts editors rarely think in an evolutionary time frame and are notorious for taking themselves too seriously).
Actually, it is not reading that leads us to ask the questions that Gaschke lists in the quote above: literature is only able to raise them because Homo sapiens can ask such questions and make such assessments. Our brain was there first! Reading merely trains cognitive skills that evolved for very different reasons - it is a further development of the human imagination, not that which shapes it.
Needless to say that the kind of responses that Gaschke hails as fundamentally literary are of course also triggered by other narrative artefacts, from soap operas to pop ballads (if the listener bothers to listen to the lyrics*). To be empathetic, we don't need books.
In other words, to defend the practice of reading, we have to come up with other, better explanations for the value of literature.**
Nevertheless, Gaschke and Michelle Obama would have a field day on Sesame Street:
Actually, this is kinda cute and doesn't deserve the kind of vicious commentary that raging loony libertarians have left at YouTube.
A final observation on role models: Why is it that in this day and age when universities across Europe have taken up the cause of internalisation with a vengeance - which is often seconded by the mysterious emergence of an administrative hydrocephalus and new central buildings to house it - administrative staff in international offices, who are prone to calling their students ignorant or parochial, often do not speak foreign languages or seem consummately reticent to travel. Talk about pots calling kettles black.
* Have you noticed, too, that only few people actually care about the words of songs?
** Lying in bed all day Saturday surrounded by a pile of books, with a pot of coffee in reach, being one of those explanations. Escapism. Not having to be in/with the world. Not wanting to get out of bed and still feeling that you are living.