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The Cavo Chronicles

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The Cavo Chronicles

Why Students Don’t Read for Fun Anymore

Why Students Dont Read for Fun Anymore

Animated groans and dramatic eye rolls filled the classroom as our English teacher introduced our required reading for the year. To Kill a Mockingbird or was it House on Mango Street? Wait, maybe it was The Great Gatsby? All the memories of different school years faded into one incoherent mess. It didn’t matter which year or what book it was. What mattered was that no one wanted to read them.

For an educational system that heavily emphasizes assessing students’ reading and comprehension skills, the American education system inadvertently discourages reading. By forcing students to read often outdated and unrelatable books and requiring them to intensely dissect and annotate them, our education system makes reading hard to enjoy.

Even as someone who has recently started reading in her free time, I still dread taking out that assigned reading novel every night. Many students, don’t even make it to the first page, resorting to online summaries and SparkNotes to relieve them of the boredom that has now become associated with assigned reading.

Why does it matter?

The percentage of American 9-13-year-olds who say they read for fun on an almost daily basis is at the lowest level since the mid-1980s. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recently reported that only 14% of students say they read for fun every day. This is down 3% from 2020 and down 13% from 2012. The NAEP also reported that the percentage of students who stated they never or hardly ever read for fun had grown to 31%.

When considering the correlation between reading and academic success, these statistics should be worrying.
A study by the Institute of Education noted that “through independent reading, children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies.” They found that the benefits of reading extended beyond English class onto other core subjects. Those who enjoyed reading in their free time “had a 14.4% advantage in vocabulary and a 9.9% advantage in math.”

These findings can be seen in society currently. Students who performed better on the reading section of standardized tests in 2020 reported reading for fun more frequently. Half of 9-year-old students who scored at or above the 75th percentile on the 2020 reading component of the NAEP reported reading for fun on their own time almost every day, compared with 39% of 9-year-old students who scored below the 25th percentile.

While it is no doubt that the rise of smartphones and social media in combination with the recent pandemic has played a role in these statistics, it is hard to deny that schools have not played a significant factor as well.

From a young age, schools unintentionally insinuate the belief that reading is a tedious chore. I’m sure we all remember reading logs and attempting to forge signatures onto them. Even if you enjoyed reading before, these logs were sure to destroy that. When teachers stipulate that students must read a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of minutes, it leads students to do just that and only that. When the 30 minutes are done, so are the students. When they reach the end of the 40 required pages, they also reach the end of the book for the night. There is no enjoyment involved. Reading simply becomes an assignment that needs to be done, a chore that needs to be completed.

Schools increasingly prioritize making students read small excerpts of texts to practice analytical reading skills over letting them immerse themselves in a good book. Students should be engaged in a gripping plotline or absorbed in interesting and relatable characters instead of painstakingly dissecting every sentence in a two-paragraph excerpt or focusing on why the author chose to outline the protagonist’s blue curtains.

It’s hard to enjoy reading when the only books you read are uninteresting ones. As students get older they are forced to read books that are almost always unfamiliar, unrelatable, and unexciting to them. These books are often decades old, having been read by multiple generations, and often containing hard-to-understand language and structures. This can create misconceptions in students who start to believe that because the books they read in school are boring, all books are boring and that reading is a waste of time. While classics have their value and deserve their literary merit, they shouldn’t be the only books being exposed to students.

School is not only about learning, it’s also about instilling a love for learning in students. When students are allowed to choose the books they want to read, even if it is from a limited list, they read and most importantly, continue to read. Schools can quell the negative connotations associated with books and inspire a lifelong passion for reading in students if they play their cards right.

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About the Contributor
Mandy Ding, Writer
Mandy is a senior at Emerson Junior Senior High School, graduating with the class of 2024. This is her first year on the staff of the Cavo Chronicles and she is excited to interact with new people and build deeper relationships with her community. She looks forward to writing stories, taking photos, being creative, and making The Cavo Chronicles a more prominent part of the school culture. Mandy is part of the National Honors Society, National Art Honors Society, and the Unity Club. In her free time, you can find her shopping at her favorite shops, reading a book, or buying overpriced drinks.