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Literacy at Eastern Christian High School

Fahrenheit 451 predicted a dystopian future full of government control and censorship through the removal and burning of books. He explored how the removal of stories removed perspective and diversity in life.

We don’t live in such a dystopia, but concern over literacy levels of teens in the US has been rising steadily for many years.

Each year, thousands of students drop out of high school, frustrated with their education. Of those who do graduate, ½ do not have the literacy skills necessary to succeed in the first year of college, according to Adolescent Literacy. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) estimates that a mere 34 percent of US eighth graders can write and read at a proficient level. Age seems to play a significant role in these percentages, however: 57 percent of 8 year olds say that they read books for fun 5-7 days a week. Similarly, 40 percent of the same age group say they love reading. By age 9, however, these percentages drop drastically- 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. A 2016 survey from the American Psychological Association found that ⅓ of twelfth graders had not read a book in the past year.

These numbers are concerning, but they are nationwide statistics. Eastern Christian High School students were asked to fill out an anonymous survey about their reading habits concerning school-required and personal reading to determine if these statistics hold true for the local community. While conducted on a much smaller scale, this survey does support the conclusions listed above, particularly in exploring the impact of age and education on reading enjoyment. Of the 41 students who responded, 58.5 percent say they enjoyed reading when they were younger. When asked if they enjoy reading now, 46.3 percent say they do, and 29.3 percent say they do not. Just under half of students say they have read a book within the last month; 9.8 percent say they have never read a book that is not required for school.

School appears to be one of the main reasons behind this decline in reading enjoyment. One student wrote, “It was fun to read what I wanted to read on my own time, but now I feel like the school is just shoving reading books down my throat and it’s just completely un-enjoyable.” Being forced to read books, they say, especially ones they are not intrinsically interested in, has dramatically decreased the joy they get out of reading. As a result, just under half of students say they have read a book within the last month; 9.8 percent say they have never read a book not required for school. This sentiment holds true for other respondents, as well. Many say that school has made reading boring, while others say that, though they would like to, they simply do not have the time to read between extracurriculars and homework. A student responded, “I think if I had more free time I would read more, but I normally don’t have too much free time because of school.”

Other responses revealed that students have very different reading styles from each other. While some preferred traditional methods of reading, others said they preferred visual storytelling in the form of movies or books with pictures. Still others indicated that they read better when they are in their preferred environment, such as outside or in a comfortable and well-stocked library, or when they can read on a digital reading app instead of traditional paper. The key to increasing reading enjoyment may not be in requiring students to read more, but rather in learning to accommodate a variety of reading levels and styles.

However, there are efforts among the ECHS student body to revive reading enjoyment. Jamie Kim, 11th, and Brent Van Harken, 12th, have started a book club. Jamie says that the goal, “is a lot of community and just encouraging people to read.” The club plans to read books that students do not usually get to in school, thus hoping to help students rediscover joy in reading. Their first meeting was on November 3rd. Jamie is also heading Library Love with Mr. Ryan Dykstra, an effort to renovate and revitalize the library.



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