Something's been bothering me lately and it has to do with our society's attitude about reading. Quite frankly, it sucks! I'm sick of people acting like they don't need to read and that books aren't important. Hit the road!
I used to think it was just my students. My first year teaching I was appalled by how many students wouldn't read the assigned chapters. I threatened them with quizzes, discussion points, tests that went on for days. But to no avail. Students would rather just take a lower than sit down and read a couple of chapters.
I hear it every year, "THIRTY PAGES?!? You're assigning us thirty pages of reading?!? But Mrs. Larsen I hate to read!" It breaks my heart.
What do I even say to these hoodlums who so freely and unashamedly admit their hatred for books?
"You're missing out?"
"I know it's a hard concept for your peon brain to grasp right now but I promise you there is value in reading and you will be grateful for the fact that I made you sit here and read?"
I've accepted the fact that not all of my 17 year old hood rats will be dying to engage in a rip roaring conversation about To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm still coping with this knowledge, bit overall I thought I have been handling well with my minions of book-hating teenagers.
But then a couple of things really struck a nerve for me.
The first thing happened at parent teacher conference. A mom came in with her son in tote. As we visited, she explained to me that her son didn't like reading. I said I understood. Then she said, "What can he do to pass the class without having to read the books?"
My jaw hit the floor. Without reading the books? You want me to pass your son but not make him do any of the required reading for a reading class? Would this woman have the audacity to ask for a passing grade in math without solving the problems or a passing grade in science without doing the labs? Then how was it that she had the nerve to ask for her son's passing grade in a reading class without requiring him to read? I was so upset with the mother I almost couldn't continue the conference. Instead of pushing her son to reach the expectations that were put in front of him, she was lowering the expectation so he wouldn't have to strain too hard to get it. Instead of saying, "I know it might not be your favorite thing, but reading has immense value and you need to sit down and just power through those chapters" she was saying, "Oh this isn't fun for you? Okay, you can stop." "Oh you don't like something that's hard? Go ahead and quit then. It's not important anyway."
The second incident happened in the faculty room during lunch. I was trying to ask the teachers if any of them were coming to the faculty book club that week. The book club at our school has two notoriously faithful members- me and the 85 year old librarian. Let's just say it can be quite boring with just us two. Hence, I'm forever trying to recruit.
"So who's coming to book club this week?" I asked excitedly to the teachers gathered around the tables, eating their tuna fish sandwiches and complaining about kids that never hand work in,. There was a brief awkward silence and then someone spoke up.
"I don't read."
"What?" I was flabbergasted. From a teacher? "What do you mean you don't read?" I questioned.
"I don't read. I think it's boring. There are so many things I would rather do than read."
And then from another teacher. "Yah, me neither. Plus the librarian gives me the creeps."
I didn't say much more after that. I was afraid if I did I would be extremely rude and condescending. But I couldn't help but be a little embarrassed for these teachers. And honestly a little infuriated. How was it that the teachers of our public schools, our educators of all people, were telling me that they didn't read? And if the teachers of America aren't even reading books than how the hell am I supposed to convince the students of its importance?
Am I fighting a lost battle here? This year I even cracked. I told my students that if they weren't going to read the book, then to at least read the sparknotes. As if sparknotes could capture any of the beautiful nuances of language, the richness of the imagery, or the vast complexity in the symbolism. But still. I had to do it, right? Half of my class shows up to class not having read a single page. I figure it's better they at least go on sparknotes and read a summary of the chapters instead of being completely in the dark.
But then am I sell out? A fake? Telling my students just to read summaries of the book if they don't have enough time to read the real thing. What kind of an English teacher am I?
And then I wonder if I am just holding on to some old fashioned conservative idea. The idea of reading books and being passionate about words and letting your imagination run wild and getting completely lost in a story about people who never existed and yet exist all around us. Is this a lost art? Does it have no value in our society anymore?
I look at my students and the hopped up world that they are apart of and I can't help but understand why they struggle to sit down and read. Social media is so visual and so much about instant gratification. Books, on the other hand, require focus and commitment and patience. I wonder what Instagram is teaching us- that the picture is more important than the words? I wonder what Twitter is teaching us- that if you can't say something in less than 140 characters, it's not worth saying at all? And then I understand why my students don't have the attention to read two chapters a night.
So what say ye fellow bloggers? Do you like to read? How often do you read? Does reading fiction still have a place in our society? Or am I just some old grandma trying to hold on to once was? Trying too hard to push my old world onto the ever changing ways of the new world?