Required Reading: Outdated or Not?

Today’s post is going to be a little discussion post. I know many of us in high school had to read books from a list. However, it seems like this list has not changed a lot over the years and it’s also not exactly fun. Now I’m wondering, is this method of making kids read outdated?

Did you enjoy your required reading in high school? When I was in high school, we had to read twelve books from a list of approved literature, of which three books had to be historical. I managed to find a current list of literature, and saw that even though there are many new to me titles, there are also many titles I recognize from my own high school days. Mind you, that’s almost ten years ago. I believe there are many pros and cons to reading “older” literature, but I also saw (and still see) a significant lack of enthusiasm for these books. So what do you think, keep reading older literature, or spice it up?

My own experience

I still remember the plot of many books I read in high school, but not really because I liked them. In fact, there was only one book I read that I genuinely enjoyed. Out of twelve. It was about a woman who tries to find peace years after one of her best friends dies on vacation. It was then new on the list, and read like any other modern novel.

But I honestly can’t say that I enjoyed any of the other books. Quite honestly, they were depressing. Maybe I just happened to pick out the sad ones, but I feel like many of the books on these lists have a depressing theme. It’s always death, and drugs, and struggle. Not to mention the historical works. God, those were hard to get through. Ever tried reading medieval English? Now imagine doing that in Dutch. Just horrible.

But like I said, there could be benefits to all this, too. It does broaden one’s mind. And many children are introduced to works and genres they normally wouldn’t be likely to pick up. Plus, heavy themes can also serve an educational purpose. Topics such as death and drug abuse are always a little taboo in real life. Many lessons can be learned from books instead. But that doesn’t take away the fact that many kids just skip reading the book, and read a summary online instead.

Are these books still relevant?

Some, yes. Others probably not so much. I’m sure there are many modern, more fun novels out there that could pass on the same moral message as the older works. Additionally, I feel like some themes should be allowed to die. One of the books I saw on today’s literature list was about a 30-something teacher who falls in love with his 17-year-old student. Seems icky. Also maybe not something actual 17-year-olds are excited to read about.

Lastly, I think reading could be diversified a lot if modern novels were added to the list of required reading. Even though there were definitely non-white authors on the list when I was in high school, there were not that many. Plus, a lot of the rep we see today within these books are not exactly present in the older books.

So… what’s the plan?

When I worked as a Dutch teacher in the U.S, I noticed that some kids are natural readers, while others aren’t. We had a little library, and one student would bring home five books a week. Other students would read about five books a year. But if there was one thing that was consistent for all of them, it was that they actually read their book if they were allowed to pick any from the library. We didn’t have a whole literature list of required reading. Just a big closet full of books and the freedom to choose.

Funnily enough, as soon as we as a class all read the same book, enthusiasm levels dropped a lot. Many would not read the required number of pages before the next lesson, even if the book was modern, fun and lighthearted. I think there is something wired in our brains that tells us as soon as we have to do something, we don’t want to do it anymore.

Lastly, some kids just struggle with reading novels. Especially if the topic doesn’t interest them, and the language is outdated. I had one student with dyslexia, who couldn’t get through a novel to save his life. But tell him to read an internet article about something he enjoys, and he will be able to give a whole presentation on said topic by next week. I think that allowing kids to choose the books they want to read makes them more likely to become enthusiastic readers in life. I mean, I consider myself an enthusiastic reader, but as soon as I have to read a book that doesn’t interest me, everything in me rebels against reading that book.

What do you think? Is required reading the way it’s done now outdated? I’m especially interested in learning how required reading works in your country!

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