This I Believe

Alison - Wilmington, New York
Entered on December 3, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

Potential piece for “This I Believe…”

I believe that reading aloud is good for teenagers. As I see it, teens read, but they read differently than I did when I was their age. Kids now read on-the-run, picking up bites of information that jangle across a screen, entire pages flying by as quickly as a mouse rolls across the pad. That’s too fast to read, let alone contemplate, process and reflect upon the reading. Who could wrap their mind around something that flits by so fast?

Across our nation reading and writing at grade level declines between elementary and middle school. I am the librarian at a junior boarding school in upstate New York and while our farm school is unusual, our children are exactly like yours, and they’re bragging, “I hate reading.”

Part of our literacy crisis is in the way we choose to live. Consider the competition for our children’s time: academic demands, after school extra-curricular activities, team sports, social time, television, videos, computer games, telephones, text messages, Web surfing, MySpace, podcast, e-mailing, and I-Ming. They’ve been raised on over-stimulating screen connections and over-scheduled activities. So it stands to reason that literacy statistics are dropping, why (or when?) would teens want to quietly sit with an inanimate book in their lap? Reading requires concentration and is time consuming; it has become a counter-productive pastime in a nation pumped-up on efficiency and multi-tasking.

Once-upon-a-time, children enjoyed story time. Influenced by the power of literature, stories ignited their infinite imaginations. That magic carpet is whipped away when reading aloud for pleasure is squeezed out of their young adult lives. Many teens are not comfortable, ready, or able to read to themselves—and thus—are left behind. For those students, reading is a source of drudgery, failure, a sentence of solitude and exclusion.

One of my 9th grade male students said, “I have a hard time paying attention. So hearing you read a story out-loud helps with my listening skills. It makes me want to read.”

I know that reading aloud will not cure our nation’s literacy ills, but it’s a start. Reading aloud is all-inclusive. Kids tell me that they enjoy the “group thing” of reading aloud. They say that it helps them look at the story differently when they listen to their peers talk about something that they haven’t thought of. If reading aloud to teenagers has them begging for more, has them discussing character, content, theme, and literary style with a passion, should we stop?

I read aloud to teens because it encourages them to want to read, which in turn revives their intellectual curiosity. But I also do it for a simpler reason, for the pleasurable experience, the group exchange of ideas, and the connection that literature has for all, young and old.

I believe that if I don’t take time to read to my students, then I’m going to face the inconvenient truth of teens stating, “I hate reading!” and, well, shame on me.