Hot Literature Take alert: I’m a firm believer that forcing children to read books is a good way to make them hate reading.
Schools often build up the notion that classics are the best literature has to offer, or that Shakespeare is the absolute paradigm of great writing. However, if they don’t enjoy it, children are easily going to think, ‘well, this is difficult’ or ‘this is bad, why would I want to read anything else?’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an English Literature student, some of my favourites books are classics, and I’m a firm Shakespeare aficionado. However, the language of the Bard of Avon or the political tension during the Great Depression isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea straight off the mark. While many of these works explore universal themes, young students may find it difficult to resonate with them. They may no longer be culturally relevant or the English may be so archaic that it reads like a different language. This is why I’m a firm believer that schools should first and foremost aspire to teach students to enjoy reading.
Teaching the magic of reading
I believe everyone should read Shakespeare in their life. Period. However, first and foremost, we should teach children to enjoy reading. Teach them a love that will extend beyond their school years. Then, maybe, further down the line when they’re more experienced, they will be ready to truly appreciate the classics and discover the realm of literary masterpieces themselves. Let them learn the enjoyment of reading and the rest will follow.
What I Read in School:
- The Catcher in the Rye – Holden Caulfield leaves school two days early to explore New York before returning home, interacting with teachers, prostitutes, nuns, an old girlfriend, and his sister along the way. The novel illustrates a teenager’s dramatic struggle against death and growing up.
- Of Mice and Men – this novel focuses on the lives of George Milton and Lennie Small, two friends who are working towards a shared dream of owning their own piece of land during the Great Depression. It explores themes of human interaction, dependence, and the damaging effects of isolation.
- Macbeth – A brave Scottish general named Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Huck sets off on an adventure to help the widow’s slave, Jim, escape up the Mississippi to the free states. Mark Twain addresses America’s painful contradiction of racism and segregation in a “free” and “equal” society.
- Romeo and Juliet – a play featuring revenge, love, and a secret marriage which forces the young star-crossed lovers to grow up quickly — and fate causes them to commit suicide in despair.
- The Crucible – this play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 during the Salem witch trials. The play is a fictionalized version of the trials and tells the story of a group of young Salem women who falsely accuse other villagers of witchcraft.
Where’s the magic?
Although I always grew up loving books, I can’t say everyone at my school did. So, looking at this list, where is the magic? The epic adventures? The murder mysteries? The thrilling page-turners that keep you up at night?
Instead, schools force-feed these dark stories, which in my case amass approximately 45 deaths between them, followed by drawn out analysis and awkward, teacher-dominated classroom discussions. After this, will kids want to read in their spare time? Fantasising and getting lost in new worlds are key to developing a love of reading.
Literature is subjective
Finally, literature, as with all art forms, is subjective. We should let students form their own opinions rather than dig deep for meaning. While yes, it’s often fascinating what we can find when we delve into a texts’ key themes and explore its symbolism, but do students really need to analyse every little detail? That’s when reading becomes less of a hobby and more of a chore. Reading for pleasure is diminished. Rather, they should soak up and enjoy the work.
In my ideal world, I’d like to see more schools focus on teaching students to appreciate and enjoy reading. Of course, teach the classics, but make it fun, make it stimulating, make it diverse. The world is changing every day and reading is more important than ever to understand it.
What do you think? What did your school reading list look like?
Thanks for reading!