The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

We Don’t Read Here Anymore.

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Can someone pinpoint the exact date and time where reading a book became obsolete? I begin each school year by asking my students to do a “Reading / Writing History;” this task allows me to figure out what they’ve already read, and begin to try to figure out any common themes that we can use to tie together the year. Unfortunately, for most students, they either haven’t read any books since 4th grade, or they just simply haven’t read any books. With every novel unit, I see students eyes shutter and close, or yawn or check the clock or write notes to each other or grab their cell phones, but fewer students actually seem to be following along.

Now, I’ll admit that the junior English curriculum can be a bit boring at the beginning of the year. The early American writings can be tedious to get through, and frankly, I don’t even care about some of them. I’m actually cutting a good portion of them from my curriculum next year, in order to try to gain a bit more momentum at the beginning of the school year. But even knowing that, I still can’t help but realize that my students – save for a few of them – are just not interested in opening a book and reading words.

There are always the questions of “Do we get to watch the movie after this?” or “How many pages is this?” or “Can’t you just read it to us?”, and I try my best to capture their attention with something about the next passage, or some detail that might catch their attention. Rarely does it work.

There are a few times when they perk up. The unit on Transcendentalism actually seems to be a fantastic attention getter, and Catcher in the Rye leaves most of them pretty excited. The Slam Poetry unit at the end of this last school year was a huge success, but I wonder if I had put the poems in front of them on paper, rather than video, would they have been as interested?

Is it simply the generation? I mean, when I was their age, I couldn’t put my books down. I wanted to read everything that was handed to me, and I would skip school to go to the library or a bookstore. But my parents read to me when I was a child, and my dad always has a book with him. Is it simply because the parents of the current school-age children just don’t read to them? I’m not much younger than the parents of my students, and while I don’t read as much as I used to, I devour articles online, and short stories, and novels when I get the chance.

I get that not all students are going to be into certain genres or stories, but even when I give them the opportunities to read something about which they’ve shown interest, it’s still too boring for them. What is with the ever-lasting apathy? Is it simply the fact that they get so lost in technology that reading doesn’t work for them anymore? Have we entered the ADHD generation where there’s no attention span if it doesn’t have flashing lights and a high kill number?

I have a stack of books to my right, and I look forward to reading at least one of them over the next couple of days. How about you?

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

2 comments on “We Don’t Read Here Anymore.

  1. kiwiskan
    July 3, 2013

    I love books, and we always read to our children. Even when they were reading themselves, we’d read to them from books another level up. I’m glad to say that our children and their children are readers, but I don’t know how it will be with the next generation. For me books were often an escape. I guess young people now are using technology instead.

  2. Pingback: The Lost Art Of Reading - Homes of West Michigan

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