Reading is FUNdamental!

 

At least it used to be.  Trouble is, there was never any follow up in schools.  RIF (which still exists, by the way) was and is designed primarily for children under eight who don’t have much access to books.  It was never a school program.

     Which is too bad, because sometimes schools forget that reading can be fun.  It’s not just a tool for analysis and acquiring information; it’s a tool for wonder and imagination, too.

     Schools might consider reading to be fun in the early grades, but after that it becomes a serious business.  Much too serious, I think.  Which often means, except for the most self-motivated readers, that reading becomes a chore.  The last thing most junior high and high school students want to do is pick up another book after three hours of math and social studies, even if it’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

     I was lucky.  When I went to school the competition for jobs and college was a lot less intense.  We didn’t get a third of the homework children seem to get now, and when we did our most common assignment was to go home and read a book of our choice.  Any book, from Go, Dog. Go! to Moby Dick.  Just as long as we read.

As a result, there’s nothing I love more than a good story.  Not even 3D, or a rousing game of CIV, can compare to the feeling of complete immersion I get with a good book. 

Anyone else out there as lucky as I was?  Or did your school make you read an endless stream of books that were good for you, and taught you important lessons about civics and sociology?

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  1. 1. Nadia Bulkin

    My school made me read books that were good for me, and taught me important lessons about sociology, history, and humanity.

    And I loved every minute of it, because I had great teachers who displayed great passion for each book they assigned (they wouldn’t have assigned it otherwise: our school district gave English teachers a lot of latitude). I would much rather have great teachers AND great literature than the free reign to choose whatever I wanted, because I would never have discovered most of the writers who are my favorites now. How the hell would I have found Henrik Ibsen? I would never have picked up Cormac McCarthy or William Faulkner, because I was convinced they didn’t write stories I’d enjoy. Well, guess what.

    This idea that “serious” literature is boring stuff that no one, especially teenagers, would ever want to read is totally untrue.

  2. 2. Kameron

    I’m working on my Masters in Teaching (English is my content area) and two of my classes are reading methods for secondary students (4-12 in my state). They focus primarily on YA lit for content, but what I’m really finding as the important factor is how the reading is facilitated.

    If you want kids to become lifelong readers, then you have to teach them the habits and strategies of lifelong readers. Tools like lit circles reflect real life models (book clubs) of reading and analyzing the text.

    Teaching the students thinking strategies like predicting what might happen next, asking questions about why a character/author made the choices they did, or making personal connections to the text are vital if you want them to get invested in the story. It’s what many lifelong readers do subconsciously, it’s what I do as a lifelong reader, and we need to learn how to pass that on to our students and our own children if we want them share our love for books.

  3. 3. Laura

    I learned the love of reading from my Mom and since I wasn’t much of a people person growing up books became by best friends.

    However, my English classes drove me nuts with their choice of books. They were depressing for the most part. I only remember two, that I truly enjoyed.

    As for my kids, my daughter grew up learning to love reading from me and my son has ADD and Dyslexia, which made learning to read, extremely hard. However, he does now love to read as an adult.

    How did he get the love of reading?

    First, I never left him out of the book buying. I bought my daughter a book, he got one too and I read it to him.

    Second playing adventure PC games. They have a lot of text to read to move the game along.

    Finally, D&D. When he started playing we bought him the books and he eventually became a Dungeon Master.

    What I am trying to say, with my wordy answer is the love of reading can come from many sources.

  4. 4. Kari Sperring

    My main memory of school-set reading was that until I reached the exam years — I’m British and the system is very different — books were chosen with one thing in mind and one only — engaging the interest of the boys in the class. We got books about soccer, about boys’ gangs, about boys having adventures… Girls were held to be more biddable and thus were largely uncatered for. I read everything they set anyway (usually I finished it the evening I first brought it home) because I loved to read and any book was there to be read. After a while — when I was 12 or so — my English teacher cottoned onto this and let me read what I wanted while the class went on with the set book.
    From 14 onwards, the books we met were selected from a list set by an exam board and were studied in detail. The emphasis was on classic literature, mostly from the 19th century plus some ‘modern’ works (which meant D H Lawrence and Virginia Woolf). The modern English syllabi over here are freer in some ways — more chance for the school to choose texts and more recent books — but the teaching to interest boys still goes on. I enjoyed most of what I read anyway — and sometimes we got books I’d already read, like Wuthering Heights (exam text) and Watership Down (a rare book that might appeal to both boys and girls), and often went on to read further books by those writers (though not Lawrence, who I gave up on when I left school). But I was and am a book nerd, whose love of reading was inculcated long before I started school by my mother, who always read to me and encouraged me to read widely.

  5. 5. Shakatany

    First off we didn’t have a TV set until I was 7 which means I’d been reading for two years. In first grade a friend was sounding out words in a Classics Illustrated Jr version of Snow White and it looked like fun so my mom bought me a copy of my own and from then on I never looked back and became an omniverous reader – the kind of person who for lack of reading material at breakfast will read the cereal box.

    At 12 I became hooked on SF which in a way saved my life. Two years prior my mother had a bad stroke and died when I was 15. I was a walking mass of pain. At the time the English teacher was assigning the most depressing books like Silas Marner, Of Human Bondage, The Grapes of Wrath and others. It got to the point that I could not read them. I just skimmed through them and listened intently in class and got good grades. To this day I won’t read classics. Ten years ago in Lake Como I did make it through “Pride and Prejudice” that I wanted to read after watching the terrific miniseries but that’s about it. I know the English teachers wanted to instill a love of the classics but unfortunately, at least in my case, they did the worst thing possible forcing me to read books full of miserable people while I was so unhappy myself.

    I was just reading an article revealing the decline of picture books as more parents want their kids to jump right into chapter books which if the kid isn’t ready for will make a resentful reader ready to put aside books for the myriad other diversions available to the modern child. I feel whatever gets you interested in reading whether it’s picture books, comic books, SF etc. makes you want to read more. The more you read the easier it is and the more interested in the book you are the more you’ll want to read.

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Nadia – I have nothing against serious literature, except when its proponents put down other writing. I love Faulkner, though I’d much rather read Shaw than Ibsen, and you’d have to put a gun to my head to get me to read McCarthy. And I certainly think there’s a place for all of them in high school and college literature courses, and a great many other serious, deeply intelligent books besides. They are not, however, the sorts of books I’d suggest to junior high kids who say they hate to read.

    Kameron – Those all sound like excellent teaching tools. I’d never thought of it that way, the fact that you sometimes have to teach a reader how to read for narrative. I guess it’s like algebra. Mathematical narrative comes naturally to some people, but most people have to be taught.

  7. 7. S.C. Butler

    Laura – There do seem to be a lot of depressing books on a lot of school reading lists. Books about people who are oppressed, books with unhappy endings. There’s certainly a place for both, but often that’s all that’s ever offered by a school. It gets boring, and it gets depressing, and that’s sure not fun, is it? I think this sort of thing arises when schools decide students should read books that will teach them something, rather than letting them read books the students might actually like. Which brings us back to why I wrote the post in the first place. Broccoli is good for you, but no one eats just broccoli. I hope.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    Kari – I’d say it’s just the opposite in America – no boys books are offered at all, at least not at the school my children attended. (I went to an all-boys (and very English) school in NYC, so my case is different.) Sports books? Adventure books? Rubbish. (Though, to be fair, those sorts of books were certainly encouraged, for boys and girls, when it came to summer and vacation reading lists.) But never in class. Instead they read books filled with social lessons and history.

    American secondary school English class, however, seems exactly the same as your experience. I well remember reading Huck Finn in my first high school English class and being asked what the book was about. “Well,” I said, “Huck and Jim build this raft and have a whole lot of cool adventures on the Mississippi.” “No, no, no!” I was told. “That’s just the narrative. What’s the book about? What does it mean?”

    Sigh.

  9. 9. S.C. Butler

    Shakatany – That was a weird article about parents not letting their children read picture books, wasn’t it? But you’re so right about depressing books. I hate reading depressing books, unless they’re really, really well done. But in America,for some reason, humor is not held in as high regard as drama (how many comedies have ever won the Best Picture Oscar?), and reading for narrative only is considered the lowest brow of all. The Grapes of Wrath is great history and beautifully done, but not the sort of book I want to read on the beach. And the whole point of this post is that I think schools should spend more time telling kids about the books they might like to read on the beach.

  10. 10. Daemon

    I think I had 2-3 teachers who actually encouraged me to learn anything in my pre-university years. Most of them just want you to do the robotic tasks they assign, and pretend to be a happy little android. Independent reading, so far as they were concerned, just got in the way of me doing their pointless busy-work.

    As far as assigned reading was concerned, it was always a joke. It’s almost like the people responsible have never actually met anyone under the age of 18.

  11. 11. Adele

    I have an ongoing battle with my husband because, based on my childhood experience, it is my firmly held believe that walls are meant to be hidden completely by bookshelves. I think a passion for reading was fairly inevitable.

  12. 12. Adele

    belief even. *blush*

  13. 13. S.C. Butler

    Daemon – There are good teachers and bad teachers. It’s a tough job. You just hope they even out for every student over time.

    Adele – I’m firmly on your side. You can always put family photos on the shelves in front of the books, and what else would you want to put on your walls?

    And I’ve made far worse typos.

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S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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