Does high school unmake readers?

Does high school unmake readers?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a voracious, insatiable learner.

A really key part of that is reading. You learn, even when you are “reading for fun”. When talking to other people, I have to monitor my language and references, if I want to really communicate with them. Not everyone will understand relating taking a work assignment to the Charge of the Light Brigade, for example.

You would think, then, that I would have loved high school. After all, that’s supposed to be about learning, right?

Certainly, there were parts of it I did love. I had a couple of great teachers. In particular, I was lucky to be able to take a science fiction class with a wonderful teacher.

I remember, though, having an epiphany.

I had noticed (with dismay) that my reading speed had slowed. It hit me as to a possible reason.

In reading for school, they were taking the fun out of it. They were wanting me to constantly analyze what I was reading.

In addition, there was a lot of rote memorization, and not as much about connections. We learned history, to some extent, by learning dates and names, not motivations and relationships.

I believed then (and still do now) that that approach was making me a less effective reader.

Thanks to


for the heads up on this

Common Sense Media reporton Children, Teens, and Reading

which, unfortunately, confirms that many fewer kids report reading for fun at age 17 than do at age 13.

The report covers a lot of topics, but here’s a statistic that may suggest that school degrades reading for fun: 53% of nine-year olds report reading for fun every day, while only 19% of seventeen-year olds do.

In testing my hypothesis, though, I have to point out that the drop is even greater going from nine to thirteen years old than it is for going from thirteen to seventeen.

So, it might not be just high school…but reading in school generally. 🙂

Of course, I could just be conflating two things…maybe it’s not the school, maybe it is other factors. Perhaps kids are more social by age seventeen, and may have less time for essentially solitary pursuits. Maybe a significant portion of seventeen-year olds work, or have after school activities.

While I don’t want to take too much away from the report and I do recommend that you read it (and/or look at the infographic, also at the site linked above), I want to mention one more thing.

In 1984, 9% of seventeen-year olds say that they “never” or “hardly ever” read. That number is up to 27% today.

I’m going to have to think about that, to come up with ways that it is a positive. I almost always can find more of a positive than a negative, and I can almost always find both.

Right offhand, though, I can’t think of much that I believe is more valuable than reading…

What do you think? Could the reporting be incorrect in some way…perhaps kids today are more likely to downplay their reading, an misrepresent it on a survey? Could kids be defining reading in a different way? Is it a case of opportunity? In that case, will e-books reverse the trend? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


8 Responses to “Does high school unmake readers?”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    This is pure generalization. When I was teaching, I found the 17 year olds to be among the most difficult to teach because they were going through so many transitions in their lives. Many of them have driver’s licenses and jobs to help them pay car expenses, so they are more mobile than children. They are so close to the perceived age of “freedom” (18) that they can taste it. Many are involved in the first serious romantic relationships of their lives. That leaves them little spare time for reading. Additionally, this is the age where “You don’t need to teach me anything because I already know everything” seems to be at it’s strongest hold.

    However, I agree that the process of teaching literature can wring all the joy out of reading. For me, it happened when I was in college. I had to read so many books in such a short time and write papers with titles like “The Affects of Platonism on Shelly’s Alastor” that reading was more chore than joy.

    I worry that the increased emphasis on 4th grade reading guarantees and student performance as a basis for salary increases for teachers will only worsen the problem. It was frustrating to be required to teach concepts such as “theme” to second grade students who were not yet fluent decoders.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      While I would accept that I was taking my experience and suggesting that it might explain a statistic (which could be a generalization), I wouldn’t classify the survey that way. There may be some speculation as to cause in the paper, but the survey itself is just reporting what was said.

      All of the reasons you suggest would tend to support the data, right?

      I did have a car when I was 17, and I was “working” (doing theatre), but I wouldn’t say I read less. 😉

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I had a car at 17, a Rambler station wagon that cost a whopping $600 used, very, very used. My dad sold a 1957 Chevy to help pay for it. I would have much rather had the Chevy, but my dad didn’t want to try to teach me how to drive a standard shift. I didn’t have a job because my dad said that school WAS my job. I also didn’t read less, but as I learned once I started teaching, I was never a typical teenager.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        Wait…there’s such a thing as a typical teenager? 😉

  2. Phink Says:

    Bufo, I love the way you look at the positive of anything. I am the same way. Could you find a positive if you lost your leg tomorrow? I bet you could. I know I did. I lost my leg in 2003, at 37 years old, when a lady ran a stop sign in an SUV and clobbered me on my motorcycle. No I did not sue her. I just couldn’t sue someone over a simple mistake. She made a mistake, we all do. It happens.

    I never went through the depressed stage and immediately starting thinking about all the positives. 11 years later and I still say it’s amazing how many positives there are to losing a leg. Of course I’d rather have my leg then all the positives but once it happens you might as well look at the good points, right?

    I don’t want to make light of such a serious situation but here are some good points:

    I can read many more books than I could with two legs because I only work 15 hours a week and have a lot of free time.

    I don’t have to work at all. I work some just because I feel I need to if I can to contribute to society. But I could have retired completely at 37. Not many can live normal on disability but in Arkansas (low cost of living) you can if your spouse works.

    Nobody ever ask me to help them move. I will never again be involved with moving day. Shoot, that along is almost worth losing a leg over. I do not miss banging my knuckles into door frames.

    I get to park up front when shopping.

    I get to drive one of those cool electric wheelchairs. They really are kind of fun, especially the one that goes 18 MPH I’m about to buy.

    I am one of the few that will actually get back more from Social Security than I paid into it. I get as much in disability payments each month as my full time co-workers get by working in my retail job I have.

    I get out of all kinds of stuff at work. I don’t have to down stock, I don’t have to help customers load heavy merchandise, I don’t have to cut blinds or carpet. Hhhhmmmm, I guess I do very little at work LOL. I just spend my day helping customers with their needs.

    I could go on and on but this is sort of off subject anyway so I’ll stop here. I just wanted to reinforce your notion that almost anything can be turned into a positive.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      That’s such a great comment, I don’t want to add anything to it…

      Thanks again!

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Even though I’m retired, I’m still interested in articles about research into how our brains process the written word. I just thought you might find these two articles interesting:

    The blog in which both appeared is available through the Kindle blog store.

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