A Washington Post story (via MSNBC) explains that time-constraints and lack of choice are killing reading for pleasure in America’s high schools.
I think we have all been asked to read a book we didn’t really like, but I think we have all also been exposed to literature we might not otherwise have read (and therefore, enjoyed) had we not been required to read it for school. I do think students need more choice, but there is that sticky problem of standardized tests, curriculum mandates, and, perhaps most importantly, time.
Jim Burke has some great ideas for incorporating personal reading into the curriculum. I plan to do so in my Oral and Written Communications classes (provided I do teach them) next year, but I freely admit I won’t have time to do it in American Literature. I have required students to read at least one personal book per semester in the past, often with surprising results. Students picked books that should have been in the curriculum, but for time. They often stretched themselves and tested their limits. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many of them remember that as the best part of the class.
If I only had more time. I barely touched the 20th century in American literature this year, which is not a travesty I plan to repeat next year. Therefore, I’ll be even more crunched. I think we picked some really good books for our curriculum. I wish we could read it all! All in all, the students seem fairly happy with the reading selections. Frankly, most of my students are readers, anyway, so they can make time for personal reading that interests them. I do worry about those that do not read. There are worlds upon worlds out there, and I would hate to think that English teachers, the very people charged with opening the doors to those worlds, are actually closing them instead.