10 August 2011

Can we teach kids to read, or are you either born a reader or not?

A recent article in The Chronicle Review asks if students can be taught to love reading, or if teaching students to love to read is pushing an impossible expectation. Penned by Alan Jacobs, the article goes on to say that students cannot be taught to appreciate reading in the way we as avid readers can, if they don't have the 'pre-love' of reading. Students can be 'trained' to sit and read long passages for the sake of an assignment and grade, but as far as instilling the passion for the written word, you are either born to love it or not.

In a sad, depressing way, is this true? Are there just some people that are born not to love reading, and so despite their attention towards books, or the efforts of their mentors and educators, they just don't fall in love with reading?

(I'm here to tell the truth. A long time ago, at least it seems that long ago, I was made to read Shakespeare in class. I read, and  I read, and there was something about the story that spoke to me. Then my English teacher, who was a witch and probably came to school on a broom, stole little girls from Kansas, and fondled flying monkeys, completely ruined the book for me. She butchered it. And I was turned off from classics for a while. Maybe that's what school does to kids...?)

Who's fault is it that some people just don't like to read? The article claims they just weren't born to, but I've always thought society has played a huge part in creating students who don't want to read. Why pick up a book when they can just as easily plug themselves into the newest rap album? The bookstore might be right there, but the clothing shop is over there, and don't most young girls want a new outfit rather than a new novel? There was a time where if you were a reader, you weren't exactly in the 'cool' crowd.

(I completely believe, however, that society is getting a little better with the reader thing. A lot more people featured on TV and in films read, and there's been a huge push to get kids involved in books, which I think is wonderful.)

What got you into reading? Have you ever thought about it? In part, I suppose that I started reading because of a push with my family. Not a rough push, but instead of candy and clothes I got mostly books as gifts. On the other hand I also think there was something inside me that had me drooling and drawn to the volumes on the shelves, rather than the clothes on the rack.

I understand what Jacobs is saying, and I'm not saying he's wrong or right. There are just some teens who are never going to learn to love reading. I don't know if this is because they were born to not love it, or if it's because they just weren't raised, or they adopted a life-style, that did not foster reading. Society has become mind-numbing. Books are no longer the teachers, story-tellers, and companions of or generation. We now have hip-hop, television, and the Internet, and sadly, some kids are turning towards those venues instead.

Anyway, I just thought this was something interesting to address. While I know a ton of young people who devour books, I know a couple of ton more who can't stand to be in the same room with them. I always wondered why they just never took the time to try. I totally get reading a book and not liking it, but I guess in my narrow-minded reader-way, I always believe there's a book out there for everybody. Even if it takes you weeks to read one book, why not just try?

So do you think young people are either born to read or not? Or do you think that something else is scaring young people away from reading, and if so, what is it?


  1. Great post! I tend to think that some people are born readers and some people are just never going to enjoy a good book. Having said that, I think that there are some great books out there that can really turn kids onto reading. Look at the Harry Potter series!

  2. I think that people take in information in different ways. I'm naturally very visual, so reading is easy for me. But if reading by default involved the "listening" skill, I'd probably never do it.

    I'm also very active though, so the "sit still and focus" component of reading is very difficult for me. It took me a long time to realize that was a blockade. I have to actually make myself sit still and focus on one book. My natural inclination is to be jogging, reading, eating, singing, contemplating the stars, reading five other books at the same time (etc, etc).

    I don't think I'm the only one with this problem. It took me some time to realize it's (a bit of) a handicap, when it comes to self-education.

    I still find it difficult to focus on one book at a time within a space of several minutes (or hours), but I'm learning the end product is worth the struggle. It isn't that I dislike reading (at all.) But the process of singular focus is a struggle for me.

    What I love is the fact that I can take in what I do when I read, and then contemplate it along with everything else I'm doing, later.

    If that makes any sense.


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