The Curse of Required Reading
What kind of reaction do you have when you walk into your English class and see a stack of books ready to be passed out? Groans and eyerolls? Shrieks and curse words? Oooo’s and ahhhh’s? School reading is generally not a favorite among the student body.
When asked what required reading she didn’t enjoy, an anonymous Junior answered, “To Kill A Mockingbird. It just kind of sucked in my opinion. I get that it covered important issues, but nothing really happened. There was no excitement.” But this student also admitted that she “skimmed.”
I think a problem about required reading is that students are often quick to judge the book on the first paragraph. Slogging through the following chapters becomes laborious and it is easy to just give up on the book there. I have learned that you can’t base your attitude on the assignment from the first few words. I absolutely hated The Great Gatsby when I read it in class. However, I read it again over the summer and it’s now on a list of my favorites. Sometimes you have to continue putting your efforts into a book despite your original opinions.
A different student, who also wishes to remain nameless, was quick to offer up The Scarlett Letter. “I totally hated it. It was dull. The plot was dragged on. You would have thought they would have written something better by now.”
This was a common complaint: required reading is not very recent. The reading list is very rarely updated.
“I didn’t like Fahrenheit 451 at all. The plot moved way too fast and I was really confused the whole time,” another anonymous Sophomore added. He told me that he didn’t lazily read the book, but that the plot was just too confusing.
No one was willing to put their name down as hating these beloved works of literature. I believe this is part of the problem when it comes to hating school reading. Students are too afraid to voice their opinions about the books they are assigned. “If you complain, you’re either lazy for not being able to get into the book, or you’re stupid for not understanding,” an anonymous student told me.
There is no question that there are lazy high schoolers. I talked to someone who was proud to inform me that he hadn’t read a single book assigned to him in school. But I don’t believe these students are the vast majority. While pure laziness is to blame for some of the distaste that students have for assigned reading, there may also be a problem with the actual material. And you know what? It’s okay–it’s okay thinking that some of the books that we’re required to read just aren’t good.
School reading is not all bad, despite what the jaded high schooler says. It gets students to read classic books they may end up loving. It can make them branch out from the genres they are more accustomed to. And there aren’t many negatives from getting the street cred of scholars. I’d like to think I’m not the only one who gets a sense of pride from being able to say I’ve read these classics. The blame can’t be placed all on the certain titles on the list. There are students who will refuse to read a book simply because it was assigned to them.
I understand that there are things that cannot be changed. I wouldn’t dare try to rid the school of beloved classics or Shakespeare, but with almost every book thrust upon us being older than our parents, it’s hard to find characters and situations to relate to. This can often make reading a chore instead of something to love. Could something be done to the reading list to make consuming these novels enjoyable?