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Re: We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading

Re: the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Article: “We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading” by Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College.

An important missing distinction: Most of the people who ‘love’ reading began loving it when they were children. In the past few decades there has been an unprecedented decline in how lovable reading is for most children – reading just isn’t as magical anymore.


Reading was once the Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Ipad of the day. For centuries, up until the 1950s, reading was the most powerful form of intellectual stimulation available to children. Yes, talking with people could be even more stimulating, but most children could only talk with a few people and the people they talked with had to be in the room with them (until the telephone and radio). But children who could read could engage with the minds of people from all over the world and throughout history, and, they could do it all by themselves.

Back in those days children really wanted to learn to read. Whether it was to read comic books, the sports page, or classic literature, children’s natural appetites to enjoy and learn about their world (and avoid boredom) drove them into reading. There was nothing else even remotely like reading. Back in those days reading was as close as most kids could get to ‘going to Disneyland’. Back in those days, reading had a uniquely powerful appeal that children couldn’t help but be attracted to.

Those days are gone.

Today’s children are bombarded with intellectually stimulating entertainment opportunities. From 500 channels of television to video games, ipods, tablets, netbooks, laptops, and computers, children are surrounded with forms of entertainment that don’t require them to read in order to enjoy themselves. Compared to these modern technologies, reading is a sensorially impoverished experience.  Why would a child choose to read over gaming or watching TV shows (especially, if they find it difficult to learn to read)? The motivation that drives kids to learn to read today is much more abstract and extrinsic – much more for other people or future reasons. Reading just isn’t an exclusive path to personal mental enjoyment any more.


Reading has never been more important than it is today. Children that fall behind in learning to read are in serious life-danger. And, at the same time, children have never had less intrinsic motivation to learn to read. Understanding this difference in motivation is one of the components vital to any real understanding today’s ‘reading crisis’.

Yesterday’s romanticized ways of thinking about reading are not only irrelevant they are misleading us.


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