In high school, every literature class involves a rotating wheel of some Great American Novels. Some students read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” or Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” While students have complained for decades about having to read and submit annotations, the knowledge and worldliness gained from books have always stuck.
Pew Research Center released a report two years ago that showed the number of children in K-12 who read for the sake of reading is currently at an all-time low and has drastically declined — especially low was the statistic of people who read any book post-high school.
Adults can snipe as much as they would like about how social media is the reason kids aren’t as smart as they used to be, but it isn’t teenagers creating these for-profit companies maliciously designed to enable addiction and insecurity. If students don’t have the encouragement to read for fun anymore and won’t read books after school, there are actions schools can take to make sure that some reading requirements for an active and healthy mind are met.
Perhaps social media such as TikTok and Instagram have become too widespread of an influence to go back to the original numbers once recorded in the ‘80s, but schooling systems can contribute — and, arguably, have a responsibility to contribute — to fostering not a love for reading, which is not always reliable, but the habit of reading.
Some teachers have adopted a reading-heavy curriculum despite not being in the literature department. For example, my AP Human Geography class once assigned a book called “Prisoners of Geography.” The book was about how location can affect a country’s power and influence across the globe. Not only did all students in this class learn about the importance of maps and geography without having to listen to an hour-long lecture that they weren’t actually paying attention to, but they also learned all the information on their own. The best part of books is that they are subjective. Readers can pick and choose impactful parts of stories for their memories and store what they’ve learned based on their interests.
Allowing this sort of flexibility amongst students makes studying and retaining information more fun. An idea recently circulating the teaching circles on social media is having more inclusive reading curriculums. This doesn’t just relate to the idea of diversity in literature but also to the idea of bringing reading into every subject that exists — such as assigning biographies on American history icons or books about mathematical theories and their foundations.
School boards have trouble pushing new policies because of the huge controversy around the kinds of books they want their kids to read. Some parents don’t want their children to read literature about race thinking it is inappropriate while others don’t want children to read any books aside from the great American classics.
Voting for local elections is just as important for determining the kinds of habits children develop. In essence, students must become used to gaining their knowledge from books (not textbooks) at a young age to encourage reading in a society where reading is no longer the norm.
Motivation and habit are two different concepts. The motivation to read is not reliable. Habits can be.