I recently had the opportunity to guest teach my sister’s high school freshman English class, where I discussed poetry. To my perhaps misguided surprise, I stumbled upon the revelation that only three people in her class had even heard of Jane Austen (I didn’t ask if they’d read her). While I don’t think that fourteen year olds in the year 2016 should necessarily read Victorian literature that many adults can’t get through, I didn’t see a majority of hands raised when I asked if they’d read the Harry Potter books either. This lead me to a question I’ve been pondering ever since.
Do children read enough?
Many possible answers come to mind. There’s the straight no, the naïve yes, and the “no, but their schedules are too structured to allow for that.” Then there’s the “do any of us read enough,” which is a fair point. What is enough?
Whenever parents ask me about the SAT, I always give the same answer. “Get a tutor if you can afford it, but start encouraging your child to read more.” Math is hard, but it can be taught. How does one teach words? Prefixes, suffixes, and all of that are helpful tips to keep in mind, but I see way too many people put stock into the concept of the SAT flash card as if memorizing word meanings isn’t the standardized testing version of the needle in a haystack.
There are a lot of excuses out there for why children don’t read. They’re lazy. They don’t have the attention spans. TV has replaced books. No, no, and no.
Some children might be lazy. Some may have short attention spans. I’m sure many prefer TV to books. Blanket statements are both insulting and ignore the fact that children do work hard and have plenty of dedication toward activities they enjoy.
Think of how many hours it takes to finish a video game or maintain a YouTube channel. We can take technology out of the equation and expand it to building Legos or even putting on makeup. Children understand what effort is.
The real problem lies with desire. Not reading books does not necessarily reflect a hatred of books, but rather the lack of motivation to do so. In order to become invested in a book, one has to seek it out. There’s a book out there for everyone (like my books). Some “force” (noun, not verb) needs to exist to unite the person with the written words that pertain to their area of interest. Doesn’t sound too difficult right?
Which is why you should force your children to read. That’s right, I said force. Make them. Take away the iPhone if you have to. Why?
The fate of the world depends on it. We’re more connected than ever, but what good is that if we can’t communicate? Books help us form vocabularies. Video games don’t.
While the students in my sister’s class didn’t really know who Jane Austen was, they were able to identify the cultural importance of books. You may not need to know who Jane Austen is to do well on a job interview, but you might get some puzzled looks later on in life if you can’t identify a figure of immense cultural significance (I actually provided a similar example in Five High School Dialogues). Culture matters.
There has been a recent push for computer coding to be taught in public schools. I think that’s a great idea that will position American students to be very competitive in the workforce. We can’t however, forget the basics of education. Children need to read to be able to communicate articulately. It doesn’t matter how good of a coder you are if you can’t send grammatically correct e-mail that conveys your thoughts.
So force your kids to read if you have to. It doesn’t really matter what books they’re reading, as long as they’re engaging in something. They may put up a fight at first, but they’ll think of you twenty years down the road when they’re laughing at a poorly worded e-mail sent by a coworker whose parents didn’t force them to read.