The Benefits of Required Reading in Schools

Katie Schwartz, Staff Writer

Throughout the history of educational institutions, required reading has made its presence known. Children all over the world read as they are told, never even thinking to question this common practice. Many advanced, honors, and AP language arts classes even assign required summertime reading to prepare students for the coming year. Recently, this concept of required reading has become debatable. Not so much the act of reading itself, but the fact that generation after generation is reading the same “classics.” Some people think these specific books have valuable lessons that need to be kept in circulation, while others ask how they can possibly still have any relevance in today’s society?

The Daily American believes, “Novels read in high school hold value and are worth reading.” They write that these novels teach students skills, such as making connections to the real world, identifying similarities to events they have experienced or heard about in the present day, and critical thinking. Senior Kyra Schwartz agrees, saying, “I think the books we read for language arts class are thoughtfully chosen so that they have meaning we can apply to the world around us.” If these books have been required reads for this long, it is reasonable to assume there is something important about them.

One such example, which many students are required to read at one time or another, is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The Ranker states, “You knew To Kill a Mockingbird was an important book, but until you read it, you never realized how culturally relevant it was.” “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the story of a white lawyer, Atticus, defending an innocent black man accused of rape in a time of extreme racial divide. Atticus teaches his children to always do what is right no matter if the world stands against you. It is a powerful story that holds importance in today’s world as we continue to face racial discimantion. Unfortunately, because the book is lengthy and old, many students would never pick it up on their own; it is one of those books with a reputation of only being read when required. Adding to this idea, freshman Zoey Schuler claims, “I love required reading, and am looking forward to reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ because it’s such a classic. I feel like everyone has read and loved it, but I do not think I’d have the motivation to get through it unless it is required.” Other books, such as “Moby Dick,” get a similar reputation of being classic, but perhaps not for a good reason; “Moby Dick” is the story of revenge on a whale, whose relevance and message hid under a boring and convoluted storyline.

A discussion on Pages Unbound Reviews gives insight into the counterargument of why reading in schools should not be required, somewhat sarcastically stating, “Required reading in schools. Children don’t want to do it, they say.  They hate books.  They’ll never read again if their only association with literature is being forced to slog through such horrendous material.  Everyone should get to pick their own books and all the problems will be solved!” Although this comment is meant to undermine the opinions of those against required reading, it holds some level of truth. It is clear to see that kids get more excited about reading when they choose their books. Schwartz believes this to be the case as well, saying, “I can understand why students might be more invested in books they actually want to read because obviously those books are directly related to their interests, but they don’t teach the crucial lessons we learn from the classics.” Sophomore Aaron Rhim is an example of this, saying, “I enjoy reading more when I get to pick what I read, and am not stuck reading some confusing novel.” Rhim is referring to English classics such as Shakespeare, and makes a good point: it is difficult for students to get into books when they can not discern the plot or dialogue. Perhaps books like those hold less relevance today.

Holly Korbey of George Lucas’s Educational Foundation, Edutopia, actually conducted a research project on this topic finding that “many students felt like the books they were assigned at school did not reflect their experiences, and featured characters who didn’t look, think, or talk like them.” This makes it harder for them to connect to the content. Through an interview she conducted with English teacher Jarred Amato at Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee, Korbey discovered that “the ‘traditional’ approach to English class was not working for a lot of the kids at Maplewood.” Amato told her, “We have a literacy crisis, and Shakespeare is not the answer.” However, junior Tyler Innes says, “I do not mind required reading, and actually end up liking a lot of the books we read. It’s nice because we get to do class discussions and analysis activities which make the books more interactive and easier to follow.” Innes makes a very good point, that when books are required, students are more likely to actually pay attention while reading, take notes, and better comprehend the material overall. Going over the content as a class helps keep everyone accountable for staying up to speed and allows them to ask questions or talk about ideas they have while reading. 

To conclude, yes, there are two sides to this required school reading debate. But it does not seem like this cornerstone of language arts classes will be fading any time soon. The lessons students learn by delving into classic literature and the many benefits of reading them are important in our crazy world. Required reads help students understand history, as well as how it can be applied to the present. Instead of complaining the next time you get assigned a book for class, try to make the most of it and see what you can learn. Maybe even challenge yourself to enjoy it.