Books as Bad Medicine

Elizabeth Camden The Book World 4 Comments

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 DickJulius 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

Comments 4

  1. Karen Lange

    I agree! I homeschooled my children, and tried to steer around some I knew wouldn’t stick with them. Some may be considered classics, but I think they are best reserved for adults. I think they are best appreciated then.

  2. Pegg Thomas

    What really got my goat when our son was in high school was the morbid theme of the stories he had to read. There were short stories in their curriculum book and so many of them were about death and dying. Like we don’t have enough problems with teenagers and suicide! I wrote a letter to the school and got a snarky brush-off letter in response.

    I just finished re-reading (today!) “The Scarlet Letter” and was embarrassed to find I had to resort to a dictionary several times for words I didn’t know. Egads! Our language is so dumbed-down from yesteryear. Verily!

  3. Post

    Pegg….. sorry you got the brush-off like that. I worry that too many of our school administrators assume they are the experts and end up being pretty condescending to concerned parents.

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    Karen….. I suppose this is one of the many advantages of homeschooling. I think most parents have an instinctive knowledge of what will get their kids charged up and excited to learn. God bless you for taking it on!

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