By Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24
According to a What Kids Are Reading report, high school students read ten minutes less, per day, than any other grade level. According to the same study, the most commonly read books suggest that high school students only read mandatory reading, consisting of titles like The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. Since high schoolers primarily read required books, school districts must choose these titles with great care.
Around the country, for many generations, American high school students have been reading almost the same classics every year… but why? Why is a 100-year-old book beneficial to 21st-century students?? Reading quintessential pieces like Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare allows students to observe how far modern literature has come, while still understanding how the past is relevant to today. Encouraging students to read older texts helps them to properly grasp the English language, expand their vocabulary, and help to comprehend ancient texts in World History.
Mrs. Peller, an English teacher at Indian Hills, says, “I think that literature communicates so many universal messages and themes, and it’s valuable for students to see these connections between generations. We can also learn so much about society and the world by reading the literature of the time period, as it’s a reflection of those times.” In addition to helping students grapple tough ELA concepts, reading books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an anti-slavery book that laid the groundwork for the Emancipation Proclamation, can give students a real-life example of how a group of people was discriminated against and treated in their daily lives. Understanding the extent of a group’s marginalization prevents history from repeating itself and encourages students to stand up for both themselves and each other.
The New Jersey state expresses in ELA guidelines for grades nine and ten that, “Through wide and deep reading of literature and literary nonfiction of steadily increasing sophistication, students gain a reservoir of literary and cultural knowledge, references, and images; the ability to evaluate intricate arguments; and the capacity to surmount the challenges posed by complex texts.” These skills go hand-in-hand with other key learning objectives in history, financial literacy, and fine arts.
When asked why reading is such a critical skill, Mrs. Peller continued, “Reading is a life skill, and I honestly can’t think of any skill that is used more each day than reading. […] Learning how to read critically, interpret or infer meaning, evaluate arguments and sources, draw conclusions, etc. are important to just being a contributing member of society and a responsible citizen!” A vital skill taught in English class is the ability to distinguish a writer’s opinion versus fact. In the current political climate, that has become more important than ever.
Ultimately, reading is about becoming a well-rounded person. Learning lessons second-hand through books makes readers better people. Being able to comprehend news sites and political campaigns will help citizens to make the right choice when it comes time to vote. Developing key reading and writing skills will help students become more successful if they choose to pursue an academic or artistic career. As Baldassare Castiglione wrote in The Courtier, “I would have [the ideal man] more than passably accomplished in letters, at least in those studies that are called the humanities, and conversant not only with the Latin language but with Greek… Let him be well versed in the poets, and not less in the orators and historians, and also proficient in writing verse and prose…”