So apparently, I’m not very good at remembering to do this regularly, but here is the next installment of my paper. It discusses how we can encourage reading in kids.
We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.
~B. F. Skinner~
I used to work at an ice cream parlor that was open year round. As you can imagine, business was pretty slow during those winter months, so I used to bring books to work with me. The days that I forgot my book, I would end up reading whatever I could find, whether that be a Judy Blume novel that someone left behind years ago or a car magazine from next door. I hated sitting there with nothing to do, so I read. But there were other girls there who did not read. They would just sit and do nothing. These girls were amazed that I would come in with a different book everyday, but I was amazed that they could sit there all day without a book. One day, I asked a coworker if she wanted to read a book I had just finished and she simply told me, “I don’t read.” I don’t read?! I was taken aback. How could someone not read? After my initial shock, I began to wonder what made her different from me. Why do some people hate to read?
The obvious answer is that some people do not read as well as others and thus never learn to enjoy reading. I mentioned my father before. He has many talents, but reading has always been hard for him. As a result, he does not read a lot of books. He tries, but he rarely makes it to the end of a book. There are many people like this. Reading is hard so it is not enjoyable.
Another possibility is that people can read well, but their past experiences were not enjoyable so they do not seek future reading experiences. I think a lot of this has to do with the books we are forced to read in school. We have been forced to read the same books for decades. They worked their way into the canon and now they are stuck there because of tradition. No tenth grader wants to read A Tale of Two Cities. It may be a very good book (I would not know because I was told to read it in tenth grade and was content with the Cliff’s Notes/movie version of the story), but it will not be appreciated by a bunch of kids. There are some books that are wonderful and should be kept (To Kill a Mockingbird?) but reworking the canon would probably be a great way to create a bigger group of future readers.
So the first step would be to make sure that all children learn how to read well. Lower elementary programs should focus on this task. Other governmental programs could supplement the school’s attempt. In college, I volunteered at an elementary school as part of the Detroit Public Schools’ after school program. The kids stayed after school to take part in different programs, and I helped out with the reading program. These kids read books, took quizzes, and advanced to new levels. It was not the best program, many things could be done to make it better, but it was a start, especially for a struggling school district like Detroit. Parents should also be involved and should encourage good reading habits in their children.
The second step would be to make sure that the reading material is interesting. Keep some of the old books, but throw in some contemporary novels. Show people that there is more to reading than Victorian literature. My husband is a high school English teacher and he is trying to do this within the confines of Florida’s mandates. He still teaches Beowulf and Macbeth, but he tries to expose them to other books and give them
choices. Last semester he assigned an outside reading project where the students had to read a multicultural, contemporary novel of their choice. This semester he is assigning The Kite Runner as mandatory reading along with the traditional books. He also lets the class vote on which traditional works they read. Giving students a choice makes them care more about the book and the lesson.