Re: Why Do Students Hate Reading?

by Carol Iannone

Here are some possible answers: 

— Because a lot of their readings lists are chosen for PC and multi-culti reasons rather than delight. Students know that life is not like that, so they drift away from reading and look to other things for the truth of experience. The Poisonwood BibleBless Me Ultima, and The Handmaid’s Tale could fall into this category, according to a correspondent of mine. The disillusionment may be compounded when they find out that certain nonfiction works they’ve taken time with, such as Three Cups of Tea, turn out to be likely fabricated.

— Because a lot of reading lists have been influenced by modernism, which, again, will often be alienating and unsatisfying. Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, about three creepy, mentally impaired men living in a junk-filled room, is widely assigned in high schools and colleges, according to Wikipedia. As Flannery O’Connor pointed out in her important essay, “Total Effect and the Eighth Grade,” modern literature is deceptive, in that it can often look easy — consider minimalists such as Ann Beattie — but actually takes a lot of background and intellectual structure to make any sense of. And even then, many modernist works can leave a blank. Students may come away with the sense that reading is not all that worthwhile. This can also be true of the maximalist kind of modernist works — lengthy, convoluted tomes by Pyncheon and DeLillo and David Foster Wallace, for example. They’re a lot of work for very little payoff.  

— Because a lot of contemporary writers, perhaps due to creative-writing programs, write well but have nothing to say. I’m thinking of something like Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto: While it’s absorbing as you read it, it leaves nothing in its wake. There are a number of other things I’ve read like this, but I can’t remember them now for that very reason. 

— Because the Harry Potter series has accustomed them to constant sensationalism in reading, and anything less seems boring.

The correspondent mentioned above believes the trouble started when the “indoctrination agenda” began to take over the literature curriculum some 30 or more years ago. Works such as John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men (in her words, ”shoot the old dog, drown the runt puppy, kill the retarded guy in the last scene”) were introduced to high-school freshmen around 1995 and typically replaced works such as William Saroyan’s 1943 The Human Comedy (“protect your family, wait for your girlfriend to become your wife, take care of orphans”). She concludes, “Every book introduced since the 1980s has slandered Christians or portrayed witchcraft, delinquency, and dysfunction as normal in the name of multiculturalism.”

Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.