“No, she doesn’t read at all.”
Parents generally respond this way to my intake-form question, “Does your student read, and if so, what kind of material?”
We know that many of today’s high school students often prefer media featuring snippets of image-based content and often, no words. It’s easy to consume and requires less thought.
It’s the “thought” part that matters to me.
While I wish that students would read books to derive the pleasure and knowledge from them that I always have, the form of media they choose matters less to me than the process, the ability to connect ideas and abstract concepts to develop viewpoints, to get context, simply to get from A to B to C.
When I was a young English teacher, a freshman business major challenged me, “What’s the value of reading a novel?”
I responded that in addition to “understanding what motivates people and why they behave as they do” that we can get from any book, fiction or nonfiction, there was more for the reader who was motivated to dig deeper. From Oliver Twist, and Dickens in general, I learned about laissez-faire capitalism, utilitarianism, and the deepening division of classes during the Industrial Revolution. Yes, there is a love story too. The Great Gatsby, still a mainstay of the high school syllabus, illustrates how the growth of American economics in the Gilded Age led to the excesses of the 1920’s. Its story of materialism, racism, classism defines the times–and our own. And yes, students also enjoy musing about Nick’s sexuality.
Through engaging with books, articles, podcasts, manga and other graphic novels, students become more nimble thinkers, able to go beyond the obvious and discover meaning. They will graduate into a world that requires constant adaptability. Honing this skill will help them become problem solvers as students and adults, at school, at work, and most importantly, thoughtful and compassionate children, friends, and parents.