Jeez, lighten up, part 2

Jeez, lighten up, part 2

I posted my previous little rant on Reddit as well as here, and got quite a few replies along the lines of “I read and enjoyed that stuff” and “it’s important for kids to read this stuff” and “the lighter reading should be for their free time”, and while I actually agree I think times have changed – a lot!

When I was growing up reading was my main source of entertainment. We only had 3 TV channels which were not 24 hour (this was in the UK), and video games and the internet had not been invented, so if you wanted to be entertained you read. I hated being told what to read by teachers (as do most kids), but my escape from reading what they told me to read was to read what I wanted to read.

Things are totally different now- if my son wants to escape from what the school tells him to read (and he does) he has: 24 hour wall-to-wall TV, video games, his phone, text messages, Skype, and everything the internet has to tempt him with. Reading for pleasure is just one of many options now, and because he is beginning to associate reading with unpleasant subjects he does not want to read about it is getting lower on his list. And before you tell me that as parents we should be controlling what he has access to- I agree, but if you think it’s that easy you obviously have not tried to raise a teenager lately!

Kids must read an awful lot of different things as they plow through the homework they are set, and much of it is dry, textbook reading. And while I agree that an appreciation of fine literature must be taught as part of their education, does the subject matter have to be so deep and meaningful all the time? By treating it this way we are producing a generation of kids who see reading as “work” or a “chore” as they associate it with homework and as something that has to be done before they can do what they want to do, probably  online.

I think there needs to be a radical rethink of the way “English” is taught to inspire kids to enjoy reading, to treat it as something they enjoy and want to do- and you don’t do that by making them read nothing but “worthy” books that will teach them other things. Teach the other things in the other classes, let Social Studies teach the history and Health teach the responsibility and the social justice. English should be about teaching kids to read and write, they should be taught to read for pleasure and enjoy the beauty of a well turned phrase and a ripping yarn. Only by reading good, gripping stories that they enjoy and they feel are relevant to them will they keep doing it for fun after the class and the homework is finished. And only by exposure to lots of reading will they learn to be effective and creative writers themselves.

If you do a little research online you will see all sorts of reports and studies that show that reading for pleasure is in decline. In a brief search I found a Time article that reports that 45% of 17 year olds admit to only reading for pleasure a few times a year, while a Huff Post poll found that 28% of Americans have not read a book in the last year… how freaking sad!

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