Sunday, December 9, 2007

Where have all the readers gone?

A recent New York Times report by Motoko Rich claims that, "Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining." The decline in pleasure reading is often attributed to the popularity of electronic entertainment and the workaholic nature of so many Americans today.

Really, the root of this problem lies within the school system. Reading has become so technical and overwhelming in NYC schools that it seems natural for people to start rejecting reading for enjoyment.

In elementary schools today, children's independent reading books are leveled from A-Z. Children are told what level they are on (letters are often represented by colored dots) and told only to take books from baskets for their level. This year, children's reading levels are being put on their report cards for parents to see. First of all, children are loosing the ability to pick books for themselves by being told only to take "red dot books."

In elementary school, I learned to look at the size of the words, the vocabulary, and to read the first page before deciding if it was a "just right book." Second of all, how is a child supposed to enjoy reading when they are concentrating all their efforts on moving from being a level J reader to being a level K reader? Kids can no longer try out different, sometimes amazing books and decide what they like.

In high school, it's a million times worse. It's impossible to read a book for enjoyment if you have to take notes on every page, keep your mind in tune for thesis statements and prepare to critique the author. I have been unable to pursue my independent reading book for several weeks due to intensive reading assignments for my English class and other classes.

It is the job of schools to bring back the idea of reading for pleasure. English classes should encourage students to pick their own books, and allow time for them to just read. Not only will this improve test scores on reading tests... it might even get kids to love great literature!

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