OPINION: Every student deserves free reading time


George Gogel

It’s not uncommon to hear students advocating for the return of nap times, both jokingly and seriously. Perhaps you are a proponent for bringing back nap time yourself, but what happened to daily reading times? It should come as no surprise that traditional reading is on the decline, often replaced by electronic forms of communication and media. Independent reading has its foot out the door as soon as children graduate from elementary school. From that point on, students struggle to find meaningful time for themselves in what is already a compulsory “pursuit of education.” They are at the mercy of their state’s educational system, not to mention the beliefs and biases of individual teachers afterward. Elementary education emphasizes making dedicated readers out of all pupils, yet the passion is nonexistent in higher grade levels.

Firstly, there is a notable difference between assigned and independent reading time. Overall, avid readers enjoy a significant deal of academic improvement and success, including self-sufficiency in conversation, building arguments and imagination. Unprompted reading offers  students a greater chance at personal success and discovery. On the other hand, required reading is counterproductive. The attempt to enforce reading via written summary and essay does more harm than good. Forced reading discourages self-interest while independent reading creates self-sufficient , highly intellectual people. Therefore required reading should be reserved for academic assignment. The difference between assigned and independent reading times are their intended purposes: critical analysis and pleasure, in that order.

Not everyone is in agreement, however, and some might object by saying the institution of independent reading time(s) in public schools is negatively impacting the course of learning. Friends of required reading fail to recognize pleasurable reading as valuable, whether it occurs inside or outside school boundaries. The absence of academic gain is not a failure of learning. In academia, reading has always been less about achievement and more about pleasure and healthy distraction. 

Universities and colleges popularizing first-year seminars and writing classes are useful and could be implemented as far back as junior high as well. As straightforward as those exploratory skills are, students would be better prepared for high school and their professional lives in doing so. Educators would also have the means of encouraging civic engagement in their students from an early age, teaching them about community participation and engagement, then moving to broader, national and international topics. Today, only one or two mandatory classes in high school explore that kind of education, which only adds up to a year in a student’s lifetime. Students in Watauga County, for example, will then have the ability to make their voices equal to adults and their words would display thoughtfulness, now backed by evidence and careful research. 

The line between “child” and “adult” is so very thin, humans are humans regardless, and a passion for reading should not be ignored as a common link amidst global threats and struggles. An education elevates one’s personal responsibilities and independence in a community, and consistent reading alongside consistent academic study best accomplishes that goal through several consecutive years of reinforcement. Schools cannot expect to produce learned individuals without first gifting a curiosity to learn. By allowing independent reading to return to higher grade levels, Watauga County, North Carolina, and the United States will begin to see a more successful, more well-rounded population.