Reading Literature in School – Make It Count for Students

Writing has been around since, quite literally, the precise beginning of history. When writing began, man began to record his thoughts, stories, and ideas. Since that time we have developed a much more sophisticated system for keeping our important thoughts in order, but the same object has always been the same.

It is because of this tradition that we generally associate the written word, and particularly the published word, with something important, and worth remembering and passing along. After all, if someone is going to go through all of the trouble of not only recording an idea, but physically reproducing it in the printed form, does it not mean that what he has recorded must carry some weight? Also, there is the implication that, once an idea has been published, it has been reviewed by any number of people, and found time and again to be consequential.

For that reason, then it only makes sense that once of the most basic subjects taught in schools today is “English” or “Literature.” It only stands to reason that, when we gather in an academics setting to share ideas and to learn, that we spend time familiarizing ourselves with out literary tradition. But is that really a good idea? Is studying literature productive?

You could certainly make the argument that it is. After all, a society’s literary output is a manifestation of its deepest yearning and most fundamental motivations. When you learn about a country’s works of literature, you learn what sort of things make the country tick, and what kinds of forces have shaped the growth of that country for perhaps millennia.

When you take the time to explore the literary tradition of a culture, you have more insight into it government, its families, its wars, and its triumphs than you ever could have done without the benefit of those books. Certainly, when you learn about your own country, and your own people through their literature you can learn a great deal about yourself and everyone around you. So why would anyone ever argue against teaching Literature courses in school?

Well, there is a downside. Very often when we present these ideas to students, we do so too soon, or without their consent or interest. The study of literature and the simple reading of books is a fantastically interesting exercise for the eager mind, but a terrifically dull one for the reluctant mind. What is worse is that often, when students are made to read books for classes when they have no time or desire for it, they end up despising that reading, and would prefer not to read any more at all. Who knows what might have happened had that student been given a chance to come around to reading on his own, when he was in the best position to benefit from it?

All too often in education we force things on the youth in our society on the assumption that it is for their own good. While that may certainly be true in some situations, it is something to be very careful about when it comes to reading. Too frequently, teenagers and student will say they ‘hate reading’ because all they have ever known about books is that people can make you read them when you’d rather be doing something else.

If this is what the study of literature has degenerated into, then who is really benefiting? School is inevitably a place where people will be forced to do things they may not enjoy, but reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Perhaps the way we teach literature deserves to be reconsidered.