Hey guys! Sorry for the minimal posting recently, I’ve been pretty busy and also seem to be going through a bit of a writer’s block. I couldn’t think of anything good enough to post! But this idea has been jumping around in my mind for a while, and I think I’ve finally refined it enough to write about it. Required reading is a hot topic for me, because I’m still in school and therefore still subject to required reading. It has both it’s pros and cons, and I can honestly say I still haven’t made up my mind to whether I agree with it or not.
Required reading can come in many forms, but usually it’s in English class. They assign a book to you that you may or may not be interested in, and you have to read it by a certain time and be ready to discuss it. Now, I don’t know about you, but even though I obviously love books and reading, once a book is assigned to me, I suddenly dread reading it. It doesn’t even matter if I’m interested in the book or not. For my History class, one of our assignments was to choose a historical book from a list our teacher provided. I chose The Sunflower, which discusses the Holocaust, a subject I’m both very connected to and very interested in. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book. I was. But when the time came to read it, I kept pushing it off, even though I enjoyed it while reading the book. The same goes for The Handmaid’s Tale in my English class. I was genuinely interested in the book, so I chose it, but ended up reading most of it the night before it was due.
Why do I do this? As evident by the fact that I have a book blog, it isn’t that I don’t like books. I even enjoy these books when I’m reading it, it’s just I have no motivation or desire to read it the minute it’s assigned to me. I have a couple theories for why this exists.
- The over justification effect: I learned about this in Psych last year, and the example they actually used was reading. Basically, it’s when we get external rewards for something we already intrinsically enjoy, our internal motivation to perform this activity starts to disappear. When a book is assigned to you, it is given external motivation as well: grades, desire to please teacher, etc. So even though I enjoy reading, that works against me, because that internal motivation disappears. It doesn’t seem to be for all reading, though, just required reading. I still read multiple books for pleasure during the time I was supposed to be reading my required reading.
- The way books are taught in school: This could have an entire discussion post to itself, but it also fits into this required reading post. At least in my school, I think most books are taught in ways that completely suck the enjoyment out of reading. Particularly, my English teacher last year would completely drain me of any enjoyment I had while reading the book. Why? Because we had to read passages at home, and then come into class and read those exact same passages out loud. Also, as a quote I read once described (which ironically I read in an English class), teachers tend to dissect the book to it’s bare parts until it loses all the magic it possessed. A book that once seemed complex, engaging, alluring, becomes a jumble of sentences and organization tools and symbolism and metaphors. It is an example, I believe, of the sum being greater than the whole of its parts. A book is not just words on paper placed there with deliberate thought to create a certain effect. It is, for lack of a better word, magic, when all parts are combined. But teachers dissect it until we just look at the bare bones of the book, and focus so much on the word choice and diction that we ignore the plot, characters, setting, and everything we all review because that it what makes the book for us.
- The books chosen: This one kind of flows from the previous bullet, but the books chosen to teach tend to decrease my motivation to read them. I know, this contradicts my earlier statements that I actually enjoy the books I read for school. But it’s more that I enjoy the books for what they are. I do not enjoy them enough to create a personal connection to them and love them the way I love my own books. Also, teachers tend to choose books or discuss certain aspects of the books that aren’t relevant or interesting to me. For example, when we read The Great Gatsby this year, our main focus was on the economy. How did it impact people’s action, what role did materialism play, those type of focuses. We did not focus on what I found interesting, which was the romances between all the characters, the friendships formed, the characters and their personalities. So this depreciated my enjoyment for the book, because we focused so little on the parts that I found important and relevant to my life. The points where I actually had opinions.
That being said, there are pros to required reading. It forces students to read who wouldn’t normally read. It introduces you to books you wouldn’t normally read and expands your horizons. And sometimes I actually do enjoy picking apart the book, at least minimally, because some of the symbolism or word choice my teacher reveals actually adds to the magic of the book.
But is required reading “worth it” for schools? Does it achieve its desired effect? Are there ways to reform it so it is more effective? I don’t know the answer to these questions. As I mentioned in the beginning, the pros and cons of required reading are both numerous, and complicated.
What do you think? Should reading be required in school? How else could teachers teach books in a way that preserves the magic of books? Is there a way to reform the required reading system in school?