I’m back this Friday participating in another Let’s Talk Bookish post! This weekly bookish discussion series was created by Rukky @ Eternity Books and co-hosted with Dani @ The Literary Lion. However, in April of 2022, Aria @ Book Nook Bits took over! For this week, our topic is: Required Reading.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to do a Let’s Talk Bookish post! Naturally, I’m coming in with a potentially hot take. I’ll be curious to hear what you think!
Here’s a few of the questions to help with this week’s prompt. Required reading. How do you feel about required reading? Do you think it is unfair and boring? Or do you think it helps students become better readers? What kinds of books do you think should be required reading, and what should classes avoid? Is it a good way of getting students to read old classics?
My Experience With Required Reading
So, in the American school system, required reading basically sums up to having to read a bunch of classic novels by (usually) dead white dudes. The writing itself is often out of touch, hard to grasp and unenjoyable. At least, that’s how I felt. Though I did have a background as a reader (though we have no idea where it came from), required reading was a bane for me. I found the books to be boring. I’d fly through them so I could get back to my fantasy books I’d picked out from the library.
So, I wanted to get that background out of the way, since it greatly informs my take.
I do think there should be required reading in school. Reading creates so much opportunity for growth as a learner, introducing avenues for critical thought, close analysis, interpretation, introspection and subjectivity. Yet so many of my friends going up were first introduced to reading through our required reading syllabus in English class. So many of us found classics to not be our cup of tea.
So many of those friends still don’t read to this day.
Not because they can’t handle it. But because it’s tied to foundational memories where it wasn’t enjoyable.
So, my stance? While I do believe reading should be required and taught, I think the books chosen should be varied and influenced by the students.
Let me explain. You’re in an English class, it’s 7th grade and you have to write a report on a book you hated. Say, Grapes of Wrath. (God, I loathed that book so much.) You conduct analysis you don’t understand and don’t necessarily put any extra effort into, because you hate it.
Now, let’s say the next unit is informed by you. You still need to write a report or analysis, but this time, your teacher helps you find a book you enjoy. You go to the library and work with librarians to find something that matches your interests. Suddenly, you realize that you can read a murder mystery. There are contemporary romances. There is fantasy and science fiction. Memoirs and sports stories and everything you can possibly imagine.
If you’re lucky and your school hasn’t been hit with a book ban, there are also books with characters who might look like you. There are books written for, by and about marginalized people. Queer books.
You’re empowered by the opportunity to choose. You feel respected for having your interests heard. And, you just might find a new passion, one you can share with your classmates, as you do presentations over the books you’ve discovered. And now, the rest of your units are influenced in such a way that is collaborative and engaging.
Now, let’s compare the two units, both that incorporate required reading. Which sounds more appealing to you?
So, as you can see, I think there is some merit to required reading. But it’s also outdated, in my experience. It doesn’t invite a student to engage at their interest level or feel invested in a way that I believe our entire education system lacks (so focused, still, it is on numbers and test scores and admission rates). Especially during a time where books are actively being challenged and reading is being policed. Giving the choice to the reader, especially a youth reader, a chance to advocate for themselves is so important. Now more than ever before.
What about you? What was your experience with required reading like? Do you agree with my take here? I’d love to hear your thoughts!