Why Students Resist Reading

By Irma DeFord

The absence of intellectual rigor in the study of literature in our public schools is a national disgrace. Students who are willing to read discover, to their chagrin, that soon after finishing a novel or short story, they can remember little of what they've just read -- much less identify and understand the central metaphor, archetype, or prime cause.

They don't know how to carry on close reading, to think carefully, to ask questions of the text and answer them. They don't know how to develop an informed intuition that promotes original concepts. They have no way of knowing that decoded metaphor is the source of coherence in literature because they have not been taught to recognize the internal forces that control the structure of the text.

A serious study of imaginative prose is thought to be beyond their scope. We ask so little of students that we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. They can't do it because we don't believe they can; therefore, we don't attempt to teach them or make it possible for them to learn, thus corroborating and reinforcing the myth of their incapacity.

When we look around, we see the wreckage of this toxic belief system -- readers who refuse to read and teachers who are worn out from trying. Is it any wonder that, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, fewer than half of adult Americans now read literature?

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