From NYTimes: Where does a love of reading come from?

September 1, 2009 at 7:18 am 7 comments

There is an article in the NYTimes today called “Where Does A Love of Reading Come From?” The article is as a result of a teacher down in Georgia who asked students to choose which book they wanted to read rather than assigning perennial favorite To Kill A Mockingbird. Critics claimed this is bad educating and supporters loved that she was trying to get students to like reading no matter what was being read. The Times asked its readers where they first loved reading and if a school curriculum had anything to do with it.

I love this sort of reading reminiscence and I’m frankly curious to hear how our readers discovered their love of reading. As the Times asks, did it come from school at all or from your family and friends? For myself, school did everything short of burning books to dissuade me from reading (I hated almost every book we ever read because of the curricula and teachers and am only now realizing how great some of them, like Mockingbird, really were). Reading was a personal love fostered actively by my mother. Yes, school tried to get me to like reading, but in so doing made me hate English classes and the books themselves. My favorite assignments were the ones where the teacher did ask us to choose our own reading and then write about it. That made me appreciate my own reading more and look more closely at what I was reading than any education in regards to “classics.”

So what about you? Did you love reading on your own? Did your family start it all? Or did school really make all the difference?


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays, News. Tags: , , , , .

Another Literary Transgression The Girl With No Shadow

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  September 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I saw this article and hoped you would write on it!

    I think that allowing students to choose their own books is a dangerous thing to do. If I had my druthers, all I would have read throughout middle school were Babysitters Club books with the occasional King of the Wind or Eva thrown in. That’s not to say that I didn’t love to read and didn’t read other things, but while my parents encouraged reading in general, neither really knew enough to point me toward anything really challenging and worthwhile.

    Reading in school forced me to give books a chance that I ordinarily would not have chosen for myself. The Great Gilly Hopkins, Where the Red Fern Grows, and later The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet, In Cold Blood, Interpreter of Maladies, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, A Prayer for Owen Meaney…the list goes on and on. Even Hamlet was a class assignment.

    Even if I hated the classes or the teacher (e.g. Mr. Leiker), being given books to read in class taught me the value of diversity and discipline in reading. Being required to read certain books in school and later in college ensured that I became a well-rounded reader.

    Additionally, wouldn’t it be very difficult for a teacher to supervise a class reading many different books? Does this mean we’re going to have eighth-graders thinking Twilight is good literature? Isn’t this just, as Toby Zeigler would say, another way of making kids different?

    The answer to children’s disinclination toward challenging books is not to let them read Captain Underpants and write their essays in text-speak — it’s to teach the classics in a way that makes them interesting and relevant. Or, on the other side, teach kids that it’s okay to dislike certain classics, but prompt them for specific reasons and have them write about that!

    But I suppose that’s more difficult than unraveling the socio-political implications of The Clique series (though that sounds pretty challenging, actually, so I doubt that’s what the students are doing with these books).

    • 2. KT  |  September 1, 2009 at 10:28 am

      Sorry, that was like a post in itself! :\

    • 3. Corey  |  September 2, 2009 at 10:26 am

      (Sorry this got mad-long, too!)

      I see your points and while they are quite valid (even laudable at times!), I still broadly disagree. While it is true that school forced me to read things I would not have otherwise chosen and that many of them were highly regarded pieces of “worthwhile” literature (as you say), I think it is far more worthwhile for a student to discover these things at his or her own pace and actually appreciate them rather than have them shoved down his or her throat at school.

      I read so many really excellent books as assigned for a class that were just ruined for me because of the teaching aspect. Rather than realizing their merit or appreciating them at all, they became a chore and I feel like I missed out on loving a lot of great books because they were an assigned in school.

      Perhaps I am placing too much faith in students, but I do not think formal education is required to ensure that someone will become a well-rounded reader. Whether or not someone will read a lot or love the classics is a matter of entirely personal inclination. Personally, I have independently striven to make sure I read as many classics as possible and I have frankly enjoyed and appreciated them far more outside of school. It pains me that I am only now realizing how excellent many of the books we read in school really are. Like I said with Dickens, I liked him so much more now, at 23, than I probably would have at 16 and in class.

      I agree that better teaching is required in schools to really engage students with reading and even math, but I also think that it is just as important to show students that the books that they choose and that they want to read are equally valid choices. These may not be high literature, but it is important that students embrace all reading, not just the assigned things, and if teachers can get their students to engage with a text simply because of it is of the students’ choosing, I say more power to them. I do not think it can ever hurt to look more closely at what you’re reading, even if it is something like Twilight.

      But while you say that letting students read their own books only serves to make them different, I think it only serves to make them value their own judgement and independence. I am not suggesting we override the entire curriculum and just have students constantly read whatever they want (that would be study hall). I am merely saying that taking one unit or one day a week to discuss something the student actually wants to read as as valid form of literature can teach them just as much as sticking to a strict classics-only curriculum.

      You said that you learned about diversity and disicipline in reading. I think that is fantastic and I wish I had taken that away from my public school years. But I think that letting students choose for themselves can also let them learn equally valuable lessons about personal choices and independence as well as foster a love of personal reading.

      • 4. KT  |  September 2, 2009 at 1:15 pm

        I think part of the problem is that we are both looking at this anecdotally, relying heavily on our own experiences. I think your points are valid and well-argued, but I think what we need for a good debate are the results of these pilot programs in order to come to any sort of legitimate conclusion.

        That being said, we are also pretty well-read people who read a lot, early and often, regardless of our different reading material. It would be really interesting to hear from someone who didn’t get any reading encouragement or guidance at home, and see how the traditional mode of reading education has affected their take on books.

        I also think your idea of taking one day a week to teach ‘independent’ books is a good one — it reminds me of a more structured version of the independent reading days we had in elementary school, which I always loved. It’s just…kids need to know about To Kill a Mockingbird! Popular Lit student or not, no one can convince me otherwise :\

      • 5. Corey  |  September 4, 2009 at 6:41 am

        I think you’re right that we’re both being very anecdotal, which I think is doubly interesting considering how we came out of the exact same school system with two completely different views on this issue!

        And, yeah, everyone really should read Mockingbird! :)

  • 6. KT  |  September 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Additionally, Penguin Classics has posted this on their Facebook profile —

    Discuss it here, discuss it there, whatever!

  • […] discussed something similar here in the past, but it is definitely a topic worth revisiting. In the comments, it was asked whether or not people […]


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