The sad fact is that many kids today do not read for pleasure. Researchers have found that after the age of 8, interest in reading “sharply declines”, and only 46% of 15-17 year olds “say they either love or like reading books for fun”. While the overwhelming presence of technology definitely plays a large role in this phenomenon, I will venture to say that school, specifically English class, is a factor that contributes to this declining statistic. The books that are built into the average high school curriculum are often boring, overly lengthy, and inaccessible for a high schooler. My take on the lack of pleasure reading today is that because of having to agonizingly trudge through boring books, kids have lost interest in reading altogether and no longer go out of their way to pick up a book.
Natalie Stadler, TP writer and high schooler says, “When I was younger, reading served as a relaxing activity to fill up my time. However, once entering high school, reading slowly transitioned from a productive yet leisurely passtime to, essentially, a chore. The required high school texts are often boring and generally not relatable for high school students, making reading them quite a burden to allocate time to and read cover to cover.”
What do Homer and Charles Dickens have in common?
Other than being dead and male, both of these guys make English students everywhere scream in terror. A Tale of Two Cities was so difficult for me to get through, and I really did not gain anything through reading it in 9th grade. Nor do I think it is necessary to read the entire Odyssey as summer work. It is books (or, y’know, epic poems) like these titles that turn kids off from reading. Many of the novels considered literary classics are very, very boring, and do not deserve to hold a spot in English curricula across the nation simply because of their perceived high stature in the literary world.
I understand that as much “classic literature” is crammed into English curricula in a frenzied effort to get kids to become well read, but in the process, kids are becoming turned off to the actual interesting literature out there. I know in my English classes we whip through novels in as little as two weeks. These books are oftentimes not what I would call interesting or even engaging to a high schooler, and while some definitely should be required reading, others should not. These fancy, intimidating books turn students everywhere away from reading. After going through The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury, Huckleberry Finn, and countless others in sophomore English, I certainly did not feel like reading whatsoever. While I enjoyed parts of all of these books, they are hard to relate to, and there should be more modern novels built into English classes that have the same themes as the classics but are written in a more accessible and relatable way.
The Sparknote Effect
Sometimes the books we are forced to read are so inaccessible (The Canterbury Tales? Anything by Dickens? As mentioned above, The Sound and the Fury?) or must be read on such tight time demands, that students are forced to turn to Sparknotes and other similar websites that help decipher literature for students everywhere. Some people aren’t even reading at all anymore because they’ve got 7 other classes, jobs, extracurriculars, and other time consuming activities that are actually worth their time, instead of sifting through book after book of Paradise Lost (understandable for a college lit major, but high school? Really?). By assigning such esoteric novels, kids are having the internet do the work, after realizing how hopeless a task it is to try and decipher Chaucerian English. Interest in reading definitely dwindles considerably after so many boring/dated/hard to relate to novels are taught in rapid fire succession.
I propose that more modern literature is read in English classes, and more care is taken to examine whether a certain novel, regardless of it being a “classic”, is really worth spending valuable time on. If a certain text has important points or exemplifies an era nicely, reading parts of it should be sufficient. I think it is also extremely important that kids are encouraged to read on their own, maybe even assigning the classic “book report” type project simply to get kids reading again, elementary school style (that is, it seems, where reading interest declines!). It is important to read some old, some new. By eliminating a few books that have definitely gotten a little stale over the years, room can be made for kids to explore and further or begin an interest in reading outside of school.