I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that just about everyone perusing this post would agree that reading is a vital part of education. Reading IMHO (in my humble opinion) is a vital part of, well, life.
Then why is it that our high school age students abandon – no change that to – are driven from reading? It is not my intention to be antagonistic toward English/Literature teachers. I thoroughly respect the job they have to do. I merely hope to incite a discussion to understand the educational goal, and maybe develop a suggestion to obtain that goal, without creating the unintended affront toward reading for pleasure. I will preface this by stating that I have not conducted a nationwide survey. These concerns arise from observations and interactions with dozens of local teenagers.
I believe in reading assignments for all ages. Even – and maybe especially – during the precious vacation breaks. No reports due or questions attached, just reading.
His participation in a Labor Day event was dependent upon his progress with the second novel. He read it cover to cover in twelve hours. We were able to discuss it at length. I was relieved to know that I hadn’t raised an ignorant child. I had spent two months of the summer prodding, pleading, arguing, punishing and bullying this 16-year-old into reading a classic that he will now abhor for the remainder of his life. I decided to read it. Well, I hated it too. As a matter of fact, I didn’t finish reading it. IMHO, it was AWFUL.
Before you judge me, I admit I am not a literary genius. However, I am an educated woman. I love to read and have enjoyed many of the classics. And, I have committed to reading another Hemingway. But, why must we alienate our high school readers with literature some find wonderful and classic that is just so foreign and repulsive to most teens? These classics belong in college elective courses where they can be truly admired and appreciated. I totally agree with the concept of introducing classic literature, drama, and poetry to our high school students, but can it be done in a less obtrusive manner? Moby Dick, I am told, has been divided up into chunks of chapters per student and the story then shared through presentation. Reading of Shakespeare in the classroom followed by a field trip to the theatre proved an effective way to present his work in my high school experience. Assigning Farewell to Arms as summer reading is IMHO (sorry) – torture.
My daughter, an avid reader by anyone’s standards, fought her way through The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Black Boy, Animal Farm, and many others relying primarily on Sparknotes for true understanding. These are all great books being forced upon the wrong audience. Is this simply a means to meet the state curriculum? Which, by the way, has no finished works written post 1970 on the latest framework found online (updated 2011). No wonder high school students give up on reading. Their time is limited. What they read for school is often all they have time for. The agony of required reading usurps the joy of reading for pleasure.
Yes, required reading needs to push a student beyond romance and graphic novels. However, if approached differently, could it not be used to instill a healthy reading habit? Instead, it often alienates young minds from the world of books. Require them to read three or four novels over the summer. One contemporary piece the student body chooses to discuss in the classroom and other individual selections. Just allow them to enjoy reading. Foster a habit often started at a young age and solidify readers for life who just someday may choose to pick up a classic, for the fun of it.
Follow-up Post: A Teen’s Take on High School Literature Classes
Have your teenagers enjoyed their required reading? Do you have opinions that conflict? Please share in the comments! I am open-minded although, IMHO, I am glad it’s their reading list and not mine.