A Post About Assigned Books in School

A long time ago, three people got together and tried to come up with a way to get more teens reading. Let’s name them #1, #2, and #3. The following is their conversation:

#1: Holy surprising statistic, Batman! It seems that the percentage of teenagers who read for fun is on a steady decline. What should we do to fix this?

#2: Well, I guess we could encourage them to read books they’re more likely to enjoy. Reading books they like will help them—-

#3: I HAVE AN IDEA!

#2: Okay, just cut me off. That’s fine.

#3: Oh it is? Good. Thank you.

#2: But—

#3: Anyway, I think we should make them read books they obviously won’t like.

#1: Go on…

#3: And then force them to say positive things about those books, even if they think it’s horrible.

#2: How would that help? It doesn’t teach them to think critically and just reinforces the belief that reading is dull and pointless.

#3: Yes, but symbolism!

#1: *Nods head.* Excellent point there, #3.

#2: Well, there’s plenty of great books out there with symbolism. How about  we make To Kill a Mockingbird mandatory? Or what about Huckleberry Finn?

#3: No way, those books are racist. We don’t want to offend anyone.

#2: But the whole message of those books is that racism is bad.

#3: If the authors thought racism is bad, why’d they use the N word so many times?

#1: He has a point.

#2: Okay fine. What about a book that teenagers could relate to? Something like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, or maybe Looking for Alaska by John Green.

#3: Yeah, but both of those books involve sex. We don’t want teenagers getting the wrong ideas.

#2: By the time someone reaches high school, they already know what these things are. Just because teens read about sex in a book doesn’t mean they’re more likely to do it. Besides, these books were definitely pro-abstinence.

#3: Yeah, but teenagers don’t have the critical thinking skills to figure that out.

#2: Well that’s just not—

#3: I HAVE ANOTHER IDEA! Let’s make students read The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

#2: That book involves sex too.

#3: Yeah, but it’s a classic, so that makes it okay. Plus, it has symbolism!

#2: Symbolism isn’t the only thing that makes a book good.

#3: You’re right; it’s symbolism and long, boring prose. The Scarlet Letter has both.

#1: So let’s recap the ideas so far: 1) force them to read books they won’t like, 2) make them say positive things about it, 3) avoid edgy books, and 4) only get classic novels with boring prose and lots of symbolism.

#3: Don’t forget to make them write long essays about the symbolism.

#1: You’re right. I can’t believe I almost forgot to include that.

#3: One more thing: let’s make students take turns reading the book out loud in front of the entire class.

#2: What could anyone possibly gain from that?

#3: I don’t know, but let’s do it anyway.

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37 thoughts on “A Post About Assigned Books in School

  1. I’m reading Looking for Alaska right now!!! I got this morning and I’m already half way through. I agree totally, if they are going to make us read, give us something to relate to… (That’s a novel idea.)

  2. They can’t make us read those books I refuse to be forced to read books then I get bad grades then I don’t get into college all because of a stupid book I didn’t want to be forced to read or that I read but don’t understand.

    1. You could always do what I do (when I haven’t read the book) and just look up a summary of the novel. Then in all your tests and essays just make up some crap about the “coexistence of good and evil” and your teacher will eat it all up.

  3. #1: And while we’re at it, let’s make them read Shakespeare, BUT instead of letting them enjoy the plays, let’s assign them daily dialetics and logs. Assignments with the instructions to not think of them as essays, but informal commentaries, which are basically LIKE essays but “I” can be used. Because Hamlet and Twelfth Night can’t simply be read, they must be wholly analyzed, down to the last soliloquy.

    1. #3: And let’s not forget, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Or Mrs. Dalloway, of which ‘streams of consciousness’ will make them go quite mad with confusion and headaches. And that’s not hitting the poetry sections yet. Oh and this is only the schedule for the first 3 months of school! Read on kids!

  4. Yup. That sounds about right.

    While I did love some required reading classics like Grapes of Wrath and Jane Eyre, I didn’t care much for Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby all the much. My distaste for the latter, unfortunately, comes from the ridiculous summer assignment associated with it: record all instances where this list of colors come up along with page number and context, and then draw conclusions about the meaning of each color. The worst part about it? We briefly talked about colors for the first day of class and then HARDLY EVER MENTIONED THEM AGAIN. Oy vey.

    A standout read was The Poisonwood Bible. Great book. Highly recommend it.

    1. I always hated the summer assignments. In eighth grade I was assigned the best book ever (The Book Thief!! They finally chose a good book), but they tried to ruin it with the summer reading assignments. We also had to write about the colors, which I usually wouldn’t mind that much, but we were supposed to write two full pages (front and back) about what the colors meant. And that was just the first assignment.

      Any book with the word “Poison” in the title is fine by me. I’ll check it out one day.

  5. Hahaha this is just awesome. Really though, it’s scary that the attitudes of the #3 character are so prevalent. I did like some of the required readings in school. I didn’t even hate The Scarlet letter, but it was so dense that it did take me forever to read. In college you can avoid the books you don’t want to read by just not taking those classes. War and Peace? No thank you. A class about absurdist and fastastical fiction? Yes, please.

      1. Nope, no free food. At least not at my college. It’s about $3,000/year for a meal plan, and then the food sucks. But you will learn to keep your eye out for catered lunches, talks, art exhibits, and other events…the food at swanky events is free!

    1. My school read To Kill a Mockingbird as well. I just read an article half an hour after writing this where a school district banned the book from their reading list because it was “too offensive.” People like that are the reason aliens don’t bother communicating with us.

  6. So no one likes to read out loud in class? Huh …. well, I’m glad I didn’t realize that when I was a teen – I didn’t know I was weird. I so loved to read aloud in front of the entire class 🙂

    1. I wouldn’t say no one, but I’ve found that at least 75% of us hate it. That being said, we love the kids that volunteer to read out loud, because then we don’t have to do it.

  7. I got ‘free choice’ in my final year of schooling for two of our essays, the choice from a carefully constructed list of suitable texts, under threat of failure for any actual free choice. They most certainly followed the rules!

  8. I don’t like mandatory books at school. Well, not the ones in French class at least. It’s always boring and no classics. The last one was about child pornography and for such a serious subject, the book was very unrealistic. But, I love the ones we read in English class. We read The Outsiders and Of Mice and Men. We had to write an essay about the resemblances and differences between Lenny and George, which was quite easy.

    1. You are lucky. Although I think Of Mice and Men was on the list of books we’d have to read this year, so that should be good. I haven’t read it yet, but when I saw it on the list I was forced to lower my expectations.

  9. I’m so glad you wrote about this. It’s so true. I love to read. It’s one of my ways of escaping the real world. And when the teachers assign books I am the first one to finish them, but SERIOUSLY they might as well give us something good to read. Great article 🙂

    1. Thanks. To be honest, I don’t actually dislike the books that much. I just hate the long essays and the fact that my teachers seem to act like symbolism is the only thing that makes a book good.

  10. Awesome post! Laurie Halse Anderson is a fantastic writer, and Speak was a chilling novel that I need to read again sometime soon. I remember Fever 1793 is really great too.
    I was dead bored reading The Scarlett Letter for my AP class, especially the pointless 70 page prologue at the beginning -__-“. A few months later, however, a friend asked what the book was about and I was surprised when I actually got excited retelling the story. Maybe I just make things sound interesting 😀 I felt the same way with The Great Gatsby.

  11. I fully agree with the point this post is making. I am still at high school and the only (ONLY) book I have found interesting in all my time at school is ‘TheHungerGames’ by Suzzane Collins, and the school council is going to ban it because apparently it’s ‘too violent’ anyway! I enjoy reading, I enjoy it a lot, unfortunately the type of books that schools force teenagers to read probably have a worse plot and entertainment value than most of the baby books my one-year-old sister has. Even if others say a particular book is really good I can tell whether or not I am enjoying the book or just really hoping it will get better depending on how quick it takes me to finish the book. If I like the book, I can finish it within a day or two (unless I’m very busy, then it’d take me about a week), if I am only mildly interested in it I might take me a long time as I tend to ‘skip’ between books, as for some of the ‘school approved’ books, well, it’s actually taken me months if not years to scrape up the enthusiasm to read them. But I suppose that’s how schools work right? They give you something to read which is so boring and predictable that you actually BEG to go outside and watch paint dry instead, then they make you dig for positives about the book till you’ve dug all the way to Africa and beyond(and still you haven’t found any), and as if that wasn’t enough! They make you write about it till your will to live has long since shrivelled up and crawled away and by the time you leave the lesson all that is unique about you has been sucked out by the dreariness of what you have just read. That’s about it I’d say.

  12. I empathise so much! I’m doing Eng Lit at A-level now and we’re doing Tess of the D’Urbervilles. not only is it incredibly depressing, with each chapter just getting more horrific, there are *three pages* of description *of cows*! Why?

    I’d also add a bit about poetry: Make sure it’s old, nonsensical and/or incredibly shallow.
    I haven’t done much poetry at school, but the two lots that stick out worst are daffodils. which made no sense to me, and what I’m doing now — Tennyson poetry. It’s incredibly boring, his rhyme and rhythm are childish, the poems are shallow, and not only are the rhyming and rhythm childish, they’re also forced and often broken for no other reason than he accidentally wrote a word that has no rhymes that will fix the context.

    In short, my Eng Lit classes quite nearly reduce me to tears.

  13. Yeah pretty much. I had to read “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau last year. I am confident that that is the most boring book in the history of boring books. I am fairly certain I can make that statement with some degree of expertise because I have read “The Silmarilian” by Tolkien (for fun actually). “Walden” is the ONLY book that I have been unable to finish, and that’s saying something.

    1. You read The Silmarilian and actually finished? *claps* I could barely get through a chapter. With the exception of The Hobbit, I’ve always found Tolkien’s writing tough to get into. It wasn’t until halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring when I finally got hooked.

  14. This was hilarious yet a bit depressing at the same time since it’s totally true. I’m homeschooled, but even so my mom still makes me read books for school (don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind some of the classics, but…The Iliad? Seriously? It’s more violent than The Hunger Games…). Thankfully, she doesn’t make me do book reports for the most part. Oh, and I definitely don’t have to read in front of a bunch of people. Thank goodness for that.

  15. I’d just like to point out that I studied ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as a mandatory text. The same with ‘Jane Eyre’ Which I enjoyed. Not as much as ANYTHING by Jane Austen, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

    1. We had to read TKaM as well. I just included that because about half an hour before writing this post I found an article about a school district, that banned the book for being ‘offensive.’

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