Required reading


I don’t even know if there’s such a thing as required reading in the Canadian education system anymore and I say this because I have a weird hypothesis floating through my brain when it comes to reading and young people. (If there is required reading in some jurisdictions, I’d love to hear from commentators because I could be wrong)

You see, we’ve been hearing a lot lately about the fact that fewer and fewer young people are picking up books and reading them. Don’t worry, though, I’m forty-four in three week’s time and they were saying the same thing back in the early 1980’s when I was attending high school, so maybe it’s possible that young people think that books suck? Who knows? Maybe it’s an inter-generational fact that no matter what authors and the book industry do, kid’s ain’t going to read a whole hell of a lot.

I’ll get to the hypothesis in a moment, bear with me.

Anyway, about a million years ago when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was in the public school system, I can only remember one time, in 1979, when I was required to read a book for class. As I recall, I had a choice between three books: Gone with the Wind, The Hobbit and Fahrenheit 451. (I read Fahrenheit 451, by the way. I was twelve and I do remember this much: I didn’t get it. Maybe I should have read The Hobbit.) My son who just turned twenty one this year didn’t have any required reading in class – I know this because I’m his Dad, but also because I asked him this past Saturday and he told me that he didn’t recall a required reading project either.

This might be true for you and your kids – or maybe every region is different. But onto that hypothesis that I’d mentioned. I think kids might read if they are given a choice of stuff to read that has a cool factor. (Or possibly a book that relates to their personal life experience.) Cool factor books could be, for example, books that have magic, time travel, superheroes or maybe even a troll or two thrown in for good measure. Or maybe even a book about sparkly vampires that date teenage girls. (I know, I’m going to get hate mail for typing that, but geez, at least the kids would be reading, right?) In short: genre fiction might capture children’s imaginations enough to make them want to, I don’t know, read another book once they finish the one they’ve got.

Don’t get me wrong – my hypothesis is probably on crack given that books have to compete with text messaging and XBox 360 and iPods and iPads and Facebook – but really, is it possible to use a social networking tool like Facebook to get kids reading and to do it in concert with the education system? I mean, if Facebook is cool and say a school throws its lot in with genre fiction (which is way more interesting to the twelve year old mind that Literary Fiction, I think) is it possible to get kids talking within their social networks about the books they’ve read? (Or would having schools using Facebook to educate kids suddenly make Facebook itself uncool and would this unleash the wrath of Mark Zuckerberg?)

I’m throwing this out the the universe to consider: are there any educators reading my blog today who think this is doable? Don’t get me wrong: I think we all eventually start to read at some point in our lives, but I just think the school system could probably do a lot to foster a love of reading if they can figure out how to tap into kids interests a bit better. (This means that reading needs to be a pastime as opposed to an assignment or homework. The minute reading smells like homework, I think you’re going to lose young people a thousand kinds of fast.) Similarly, is there a culture of reading at home or are parents not reading themselves? We live what we learn, I suppose.

Anyway, this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately and I thought to see what others believe. It’s important, too – I mean, with government austerity measures being implemented globally in the fallout of the world-wide economic crash of apocalyptic proportions we’ve been experiencing since 2008, you just know that libraries are on the hit list for cuts. We’ve seen it in the UK and they’re even talking about it in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city.

So … what’s the solution, dear readers? Can required reading be cool? Can it be done? Do schools want to take this on or is there not enough literary merit in books about sparkly vampires or child wizards at Hogwarts.

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Posted September 6, 2011 by Sean Cummings in category "Blog


  1. By Jennifer on

    We had required reading in high school, but I’m not sure about elementary school. But both my brother and sister didn’t get into reading until they were 10. Until then they struggled, but by the end of summer that year they were reading at adult levels. My brother for sure says it was because I introduced the Xanth by Piers Anthony series to him.

  2. By admin on

    Excellent choice in your recommendation, Jennifer. I think that fantasy books are the gatekeeper to reading for middle grade kids.


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