Finding a way to fight students’ refusal to read

When was the last time you picked up a book? Could there be a reason behind today’s schoolkids not having much motivation to get lost in a book?

Every once-in-a-while, we’re all entitled to a break from work, a well-deserved day of vacation. When it’s not a week-long get-away, what do you do with just one extra day added to your weekend?

I decided to make good on some much-needed household chores and personal errands. I spent my extended weekend in the “Regional Hub”, good old Lufkin. Of course I tackled my to-do list first thing Saturday morning. Somehow I finished my projects by Sunday evening, leaving me with no plans for Monday.

I’ve always been an avid reader, but with a particularly busy schedule the past few months, my favorite books have collected dust on the shelf. I picked out a book about the colorful side of Louisiana politics and kicked back in a chair on my patio. The breeze circulated the smell of the freshly cut grass. Perhaps strangely, it’s one of my favorite scents. I spent a good part of the afternoon sitting outside reading. It was one of the most relaxing and fulfilling afternoon’s I can remember. It made me think of how complicated life can become.

My cell phone was turned off. I left my laptop inside and just enjoyed the peaceful sun. Reflecting on that afternoon made me remember why I’m a journalist. It’s not about technology. Set aside the video and pictures. It all centers around a curious mind and the ability to craft words that will paint a picture. The frills of technology simply complement the foundation of solid writing.

I do a lot of reading for work and for personal enjoyment. I scan websites, reading articles, blog posts, and stories. However, there’s nothing like physically holding a book in your hands. It’s just like reading a newspaper. While you can get it for free online, people will still pay fifty cents to thumb through the newsprint. Maybe it’s the coarse grit of the page, or the slick. inked typeface that provides that predictable nostalgia. Either way, the mundane act of grasping the page is part of the experience.

My summers as a child were mostly spent in libraries, both reading and participating in young adult activities. I wonder if today’s young adults appreciate the power held within the pages of a book? Some of the teens I’ve interviewed in the past cringe at the thought of picking up a book. Many school district’s curriculum mandates have soured students against reading altogether.  Forced to read classics for the sake of exposure, many students fail to realize that there’s a book out there for every interest area. Never fond of many types of fiction, I often found myself reading biographies, historical fictions, and other non-fiction. Instead of solving the problem of refusal to read, we’re forcing students to read Cliff’s Notes or watch the film adaptation of classic stories.

We must find a way to meet would-be readers halfway. If we can’t “teach an old dog new tricks,” let’s fix the problem in our schools. I don’t know the exact answer, but I seriously doubt many people would deny the existence of this trend. I was constantly amazed at the number of classmates who said they hated to read.  I think many of our schools misrepresent the immense power of a carefully arranged collage of sentences. Certainly, works of literature like A Tale of Two Cities has substantial educational value, but not every student will connect with Dickens’ style. If we are to assign 10 required reads for a class, why not allow 3 or 4 “free reads?” Students would have the opportunity to experience the process of finding a book that suits their personality. Part of the process of determining what you like and don’t like is exploring on your own. If our society has recognized the importance of individuality and creativity, why are students not allowed to express themselves through literature?

Obviously, a wild theory such as this would require much administrative oversight and forethought. It would be impossible to judge the academic worth of every book students choose. Not every book would meet the goals of the class curriculum. There are countless books published that students would pick because they’re an easy read, with little educational value. Having a truly “free read” would turn up students whose book choices contain no more literary substance than an issue of People Magazine featuring a Paris Hilton “exclusive.”  I wonder however, if giving students some responsibility in selecting their own books might lure them back to the seemingly lost world of reading.

It took a day off from work and the need for a mental escape, for me to rekindle my fascination in recreational reading. So next time you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, turn off the computer, and spend some time searching for a good read. For all you outdoorsmen here in East Texas, the hunt is the best part of the experience.

What do you think about reading? Do your kids love it or hate it? Are there programs in your school district that give students the freedom to read? Post your comments below.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KTRE/KLTV-TV or Raycom Media.  They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2009 Lane Luckie

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One response to “Finding a way to fight students’ refusal to read

  1. We never had to read boring books, we got stuff like “A Boys Life” & ” I Am The Cheese” & “Harry Potter” (even though it was my senior year and its for like 12 year olds) & “Catcher in the Rye” & “Chocolate War” Ok I have listed enough, but overall our teachers gave us good books that were interesting and were well with deep meanings. Most the schools my friends went to here in nola were like that too….but it is also a private school town so our policies arent the norm!

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