Have you noticed the worrying trend of kids and teens who used to devour books now avoiding reading at all costs? Well, their English classes might be to blame.
Between the Common Core standards, flawed teaching methods, and a disconnect with students, English classes are actively discouraging our youth from discovering the joy of reading. Instead of sparking a passion for literature, schools have turned reading into a chore.
Believe it or not, English teachers don’t want to destroy reading. But misguided approaches meant to “improve” education are backfiring hard.
Let’s look at how English classes are extinguishing students’ love of reading, and what needs to change.
Common Core Standards Are Pushing Out Literature
The Common Core standards rolled out in 2010 had big aims – preparing students for college and “real world” skills valued by employers. Noble goals, sure.
Unfortunately, that meant moving away from fiction and literary analysis. Nowadays, 70% of texts assigned in high school English are non-fiction. Gotta load up on those workplace documents! 😒
Literature and fiction? Not so essential for job skills, apparently. Since Common Core began, the share of English majors has dropped a massive 30% at some universities.
And we’re not just losing literature quantity-wise. Common Core is also damaging the quality of what fiction remains. Long classics like Fahrenheit 451 or The Great Gatsby don’t align with skills like “information literacy.”
So they’re often swapped for short stories, “accessible” YA books like The Hunger Games, or just excerpts of bigger works. Immersing kids in full novels? That’s so last century.
The result is watered-down reading that fails to challenge and expand young minds. Students are missing out on the classics your English teacher made you read – for good reason!
Text Selection Prioritizes “Safe” Books
When selecting texts, English teachers and school districts now prioritize three things:
1. Short, simple books
To align with short attention spans and “relatable” plots for teens. Of course, no need to push kids beyond their comfort zone. 🙄
2. Inoffensive content
Nothing too controversial that might “trigger” or upset students. No racism, sexism or oppression, even if portraying society ills.
3. Demographic matching
Books featuring underrepresented groups are great. But does this mean white kids only read books by and about white characters?
The criteria limit exposure to complex themes and realities. Just because a book has outdated attitudes doesn’t mean kids can’t understand historical context.
But English teachers worry about sullying their fragile minds, so they stick to plain texts about modern teens.
Pedagogical Approaches Squeeze Out Enjoyment
Even when halfway-decent books make the cut, how they’re taught in class squeezes out enjoyment. Two words: close reading.
This means snail-paced reading in unison, constantly stopping to mark up literary devices and structure. No skipping ahead to find out what happens!
Trying to savor the suspenseful scene? Too bad, we’re analyzing mood and imagery. The magic of getting lost in a narrative? Forget it.
Formulaic essay prompts about themes and symbols replace responding emotionally. Author’s purpose, not your thoughts. Academics over feelings.
And little choice in what or how you read. Teachers control everything to ensure you “get” the messages they want you to. Your interests? No input needed, thanks.
Is it any wonder why kids see reading as mental torture instead of pleasure?
The Student-Teacher Reading Disconnect
Here’s the core issue: English teachers love reading – otherwise, why would they teach it? But for most kids, it’s not a passion. At least not the way it’s taught.
However, teachers select all the texts based on their own tastes, not students’. Assigning books they found life-changing, without considering whether teens will connect.
Plus, younger generations consume information completely differently than adults. Why read a whole novel when you could text friends or watch TikTok?
Teachers who don’t understand this engaging media environment will struggle to design relevant, appealing curriculum. Some try relating to students through YA books about contemporary issues. But even then, the classroom context estranges kids from reading.
Bottom line? Youth don’t read the same way or for the same reasons as adults. And when forced to do so, they understandably resent it.
What Needs To Change
If we want to revive the lost love of literature, some things need to evolve in English classes.
First, cut back on dry information texts, and bring back diverse, juicy fiction and novels. Prioritize the classics, but mix in contemporary voices too.
Make time for meaningful discussions over themes. Guide students to respond emotionally and critically, not just analyze structures.
Give kids agency to choose books aligned with their interests sometimes. Let them move at their own pace instead of spoon-feeding content.
And focus on the magic of storytelling that makes reading special. Foster a personal relationship and excitement versus treating it as a school subject. That motivation is contagious.
Most importantly, English teachers must continue striving to understand their students’ perspectives. Part of the solution lies in that empathy.
Oh, and stop making kids highlight literary devices in freaking colored pencils. Give those poor students a break!
What are your thoughts? How can we reignite a passion for reading in the smartphone generation? The key is opening minds, not closing books. Our society depends on citizens who love learning.