Is there anyone else out there who despises the books students are required to read during their K-12 years? Most of the people who read this blog are probably book lovers….and as a writer and librarian, I certainly consider myself a book lover, but that happened despite of the books I was required to read in high school.
How many people can truly say they enjoyed reading Heart of Darkness, or Moby Dick? Julius Caesar, anyone? I am not arguing the merit of these classics, but they are not designed to appeal to the typical student. According to a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, less than one-third of 13-year olds are daily readers, a 14% decline from twenty years ago. Clearly there are dozens of reasons that might account for this. Competition from video games, hundreds of cable television stations, Facebook, and other forms of electronic communication are hugely seductive, and I am not suggesting that we dumb-down the reading lists….but will reading Death Be Not Proud make a convert of young adults who are not naturally inclined to read?
I confess to having been a stubborn reader as a child. I had zero interest in reading until I was about thirteen and stumbled upon the book that appealed to me (Watership Down by Richard Adams). I am no expert on young adult literature, but I am certain there are great titles out there that would be more likely to inspire reluctant readers to pick up a book.
I know there are good reasons to assign The Scarlet Letter, a wonderful story, but it is a heavy, dense slog that most students will read only at gunpoint. I am grateful that I was coerced into reading it in high school, even though I did not enjoy a moment of it. I needed the teachers help in unpacking the language, understanding the history of the era, and learning to see literary techniques. But must this be the only type of books that are assigned?
I hope I did not trample on anyone’s favorite novel…. I merely question the reading selections put together by the typical school curriculum.
Drawing courtesy of Sue Clark