Remember what reading meant in elementary school?
Finishing a book wasn’t about class credit or reading quizzes, but about the way it sat in your hands, heavy and familiar, and the thrill of that last page. We were willing to use our precious free time to read.
In high school, however, fewer and fewer of us have free time to give up.
Often, it’s our schoolwork that eats up our time. The average American high school student spends 3.1 hours a night working on homework, according to a study conducted by Stanford University in 2014. The same study found that 61 percent of students have had to quit a hobby in order to keep up with academic workloads.
My message is simple: Don’t let that hobby be reading.
A quick look into the numbers shows that fewer Americans are reading than in the past, and for less time, according to a report released by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2007.
The document shows that young Americans, ages 15 to 24 years old, spend seven to 10 minutes per day on pleasure reading, approximately 60 percent less time than the average American. In 2004, only 22 percent of 17-year-olds said that they read for pleasure almost daily. Among college freshmen, 65 percent read for pleasure for only one hour per week, or didn’t read outside of school at all.
Every year that the study conducted its surveys, an increase in age corresponded with a decrease in the percentage of people who read for pleasure. In other words, many Americans lose the habit of reading as they grow older.
While some might not see this is as a fundamentally bad thing, studies show that students who, “demonstrate voluntary interest in books” are observed to perform better academically than those who don’t read recreationally. They score higher on standardized tests. They show more “social and emotional maturity,” and display better work habits, according to a 1994 study from Grand Valley State University.
Besides all of that, reading is fun. Remember staying inside during elementary school recesses because the book was just that good? Remember coveting library cards as much as baseball cards?
We should strive not to lose that. Reading introduces us to ideas we’ve never encountered, and ideas that we might not be comfortable with. Reading expands vocabulary, improves writing skills, and most important, takes us on journeys.
Schedules and homework will only get harder. It will become increasingly difficult to find time. But reading is a past time worth holding on to. So if you can’t find time, make time. Don’t watch that TV show on Netflix, or that Youtube video––read.
Returning to regular reading as a high schooler might bear some surprises for those who haven’t read since elementary school. For instance, now that we’re older, some texts that would’ve been inaccessible to our younger selves are fair game.
If you’ve ever complained about a lack of control over your education, try reading on a day-to-day basis again. If the books for English class seem irrelevant and you’ve always wanted to understand politics or stock trading, swing by a library and pick up a book. What we often forget is that, even if it isn’t taught in school, we can learn it on our own––we just have to take the initiative. And, hopefully, you’ll find that many informational books that you wouldn’t have touched as a child are comprehensible and even interesting now.
So make that leap. Read that book you never did, learn about something you’ve never understood, or just take a voyage––to the Shire, to Alagaesia, to Kabul, to Vegas––and forget about APs and SATs and GPAs for a night.