The fatal flaw of the current generation of high school and college-aged males is that hardly anyone is reading. Most young male students do not care enough, do not see the value, or do not have the time to read literature. Despite this, reading has significant benefits: it helps your critical thinking, improves your writing skills, and gives you a serious advantage on the SAT. But for most students, that is not enough. It should be enough! Still, a portion of students do have that drive to study literature, but nothing can convince most students to read instead of playing video games or pick up literature instead of another club.
Reading is a female-dominated habit. Even with audiobooks being a popular alternative for men, a Norwegian study finds that women dominate the audiobook market in Norway, with almost 1.5 times as many female listeners as males. Even so, many do not consider audiobooks a whole replacement for printed books. Most people who read audiobooks like to do something else, which takes away part of their attention. 70 percent of audiobook listeners in Norway say they prefer to do something else while listening. However, when listening to audiobooks with your full attention, brain activity is almost the same as reading print books, and most of the benefits of reading print books are experienced.Embed from Getty Images
In the UK, US, and Canada, men only account for 20 percent of fiction readers. This comes down to a gap in the sexes and a gap of empathy. Females are consistently shown to have an at least noticeable difference in empathy, which can help them be more invested in fictional literature.
This is not cut and dry. Levels of attraction to fiction could be a natural difference between males and females. However, most boys do not need much of a shove to propel them into fiction – it can usually be a good book series or a good school teacher. An astonishing 61 percent of boys asked by the publisher Scholastic agreed that it was after reading the Harry Potter series when they started reading for fun. When asked on the subject, Mount Theology teacher Mr. Brian Shearer, also an MSJ alumnus from the class of 2014, said it only took one class. “Sophomore year of high school at Mount Saint Joe…we had to read more than a handful of novels from American literature…take detailed notes on them, have in-depth discussions on them and rigorous testing on them.” This is what it took to fall in love with reading.
So how can we push students, especially males, to take that first step or get them to actually read, which will spark that interest? English teacher Mrs. Kirsten Nilsen has the goal of “helping them find personal connections,” which allows her to make sure that her students are reading and help actually engage them. She has to get the “at grade level” students, who usually will stay as far from a book as possible, to read and analyze the literature. This is a difficult position, and because of how vital literature is, critical and rewarding.
Mrs. Nilsen also clarifies that the current accessibility of visual media is one of the main things taking away from the print book’s dominance. When asked about reading participation, she stated that over the past ten years, she has realized that reading is not an activity that kids love right away.
To help with this new issue, there seems to be a two-fold answer: Making kids less dependent on visual media and making reading more appealing to their modern taste. It will be impossible for teachers or parents, or anyone in a position of authority to get their kids to read unless they can do both of those. The previously mentioned audiobooks are one way that kids, especially high school students who have phones and other electronic devices, can easily listen to books and engage with literature. Instead of putting on music, teens might want to actually listen to an audiobook when walking to a friend’s house or while shooting basketball.
Audiobooks are a great start, especially for teens that have been accustomed to not reading most of their lives. It addresses the one issue of having literature appeal to the modern palette, but ignores the issue of fixing the contemporary palette.
This goal of fixing the modern palette may be impossible on a large scale. What is not impossible is having children reading at a young age, which will give them the interest and long-term capability to read literature. However, this is just as hard of a task as getting high schoolers to read. It takes a lot of time and effort to get children the exposure to literature required to get this interest.
Feeding children literature that matches their interest, and getting them to read it, will almost certainly result in long-term engagement. But this takes time, money, and effort – time, money, and effort that most parents, caregivers, and teachers cannot afford. For this, some options and methods might take the load off these individuals. Parents can make a point to visit the library weekly or biweekly. As well as having a minimum amount of reading for their children between visits. This will get kids used to the sometimes hard action of reading. It will help teach them how to take care of books, and trips to the library can be quick, easy, and free for most people living in metropolitan areas. There are even programs at many libraries to try to build interest in literature for youth. This past year in Baltimore, the citywide Enoch Pratt Free Library hosted Summer Break Baltimore, a library program for children with thousands of participants. This program involved library activities as well as reading books.Embed from Getty Images
As previously mentioned, there are ways for teachers to help students actually read and make connections, which is the best way to generate a pro-literature mindset. For younger students, this can be as simple as silent reading time, rewards for reading, or making books easily accessible in the school library. According to the guidelines from Scholastic, the ideal independent reading time is as little as 45 minutes for second grade and up. And most schools already have libraries for students to use. Programs can help usage, as well as teachers using the library for lessons.
Now that we have gotten the very important “how” out of the way, it is also necessary to bring it back up and go into greater detail with the “why.”
When interviewing Ms. Nilsen, I found that one of the reasons it is so important for children or anyone to read is how it uses our imagination. To break down this idea: reading has us use our creativity to the fullest where visual, and even some auditory media just spoon-feeds us how to see everything. But reading engages the mind so much more and allows for a more personal or in-depth relationship with the media.
Empathy. For Mr. Shearer, a Theology teacher, he wants students to use literature to understand: understanding the world, concepts, and, most importantly, understanding other people. Mr. Shearer uses books and articles to help students better understand the world and its people and use texts that are merely advice, factual, or relate to the course.
The literate citizenry is an invaluable asset to, and a long-rooted part of, our society as it has developed. It is a way to gain knowledge and experience. A way to build empathy and understanding. It works our imaginations more and in a different way than anything else. This trend of other informative and entertainment mediums growing their market share will not likely subside anytime soon. However, we can always do our part and do what is best for us and those in our lives.
John Lawrence Lauer is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class