Schools work hard to educate our children, but when it comes to reading, do they try too hard? Are schools ruining reading for our kids?
So what is the cause for this sharp decline in reading once students graduate? Why aren't their well-educated minds developing a love of reading that will help them maintain their healthy minds for years to come?
I believe that it's the books children are forced to read in classes, particularly English and literature classes, that is causing this decline in reading.
Let me explain.
A large portion of English and literature classes revolve around taking classic novels, reading them over an extended period of time, and then dissecting the novel in various long and drawn out forms. This is where I believe the heart of the problem lies. At heart, what we're trying to do by having our teenagers read classical works from the greatest authors is noble. Unfortunately, classical books don't appeal to children.
I get it, schools and teachers are trying to expose their students to some of the best literary pieces before they graduate and become a statistic that never reads a book again. However, wouldn't a more noble goal be to teach children to love reading, and teach them a love that extends beyond their high school years? So that maybe, further down the line when they're old and wise and ready to appreciate the classics, then they can read these great masterpieces themselves?
Just take a look at this list of books that are popularly read in high schools. Very few of them have plots that really stand out to children and teens. Where is the magic? The epic adventures? The murder mysteries? The intense page turners that keep you up late at night?
Instead students get force fed stories about adultery and creepy man beetles (The Scarlett Letter and Metamorphosis were two books I read in high school and loathed), with sides of drawn out analysis, awkward, teacher-dominated classroom discussions, and time spent struggling through long book reports about books they either they didn't really enjoy or were compelled to read. And if a student doesn't do well, if they get a bad grade in English or struggle to pick out the "right" parts of the stories, then they can't help but take that personally and blame the books. They look at that bad grade and think "I got a C in English, so I must not be very good at reading, so I hate reading." But reading isn't something we need to be "good" at. Readers at all levels can enjoy reading. Some of the most popular books out there are teen literary novels that anyone could read and enjoy.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to bash the classics. I'm just trying to say that I've always felt more of a sense of fulfillment after reading them than a sense of joy or excitement. These are the books that might cause me to pause and think about the mysteries of life, but they don't cause me to fantasize and get lost in their worlds. And that fantasizing and getting lost in new worlds are key to developing a love of reading.
Yes, the life lessons these books teach are great, but there are other ways to teach these life lessons without sacrificing reading.
Why are we okay with perpetuating the stereotype of an English teacher speaking to the class about a classic novel that they know very well no one has read? This scene is found in almost every movie or television show that takes place in a high school, and is supposed to be comical. But it's reality. I've been in my own classroom where the teacher asked question after question without a single hand raised to answer and no engagement from the class. This is wrong. When you read a book you love, you want to talk about it. You can't help but talk about it. If we have to put this much effort into forcing students to talk about a book, then maybe we're not picking the right books for them to read.
So why not start teaching reading in a way that sucks children in and teaches them to love books? Why not have kids read great books from different key genres during their school years so they can discover a genre that they love?
Sure, there's free reading time where kids are supposed to pick out their own books that interest them and read. But they don't always pick good books, they text when they're supposed to be reading, they grab the shortest books to write a book report on. There are so many ways that kids can cheat themselves on their reading experience if we're just relying on free reading to teach them about books. The kids that enjoy reading are usually the ones who grew up in a home with parents and siblings that also love reading. They've been around people who love books, talk about books, and enthusiastically recommend great books to them to read. So how can we try to mimic that kind of behavior in the classroom? How can we take the books that they are forced to read, and replace them with books that are hard to not fall in love with?
People don't stop reading because they aren't interested in the stories. So many of the popular movies and television shows these days are based on books, and when I share details and information about these shows that I've learned from reading the novels, people are always interested. But they never take the time to read these books themselves because they "hate reading." However, when I ask them why they hate reading, more times than not it's because they didn't enjoy reading in high school, and haven't really read since. So I challenge them to read the book the show or movie they already like is based on, and more often than not, they actually enjoy reading it.
So I don't think as many people "hate reading" as they think they do. I think that many of them just haven't found or realized the type of books that they love and that reading can be enjoyable, and many have bad memories of long, drawn out discussions, D's on book reports, and other semi-painful memories from their forced reading experiences in high school that are keeping them from ever picking up another book.
In my ideal world, I'd like to see the focus in schools changed from teaching students about classic literature, to teaching students to simply enjoy reading, and let them discover classic literature on their own when they are older and wiser and ready to appreciate those kinds of stories.
What do you think? Are high schools ruining reading for kids? Share with me in the comments below!