Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading

The following essay is by an educator named John Holt. Learn more about him here. As a continuation of our discussion of reading in general, study this argument, and then share your reactions in the comments section. If you would like to see what my tenth graders had to say about this article, you can look here.

How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading | John Holt

When I was teaching English at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, I used to ask my students the kinds of questions that English teachers usually ask about reading assignments—questions designed to bring out the points that I had decided they should know. They, on their part, would try to get me to give them hints and clues as to what I wanted. It was a game of wits. I never gave my students an opportunity to say what they really thought about a book.

I gave vocabulary drills and quizzes too. I told my students that every time they came upon a word in their book they did not understand, they were to look it up in the dictionary. I even devised special kinds of vocabulary tests, allowing them to use their books to see how the words were used. But looking back, I realize that these tests, along with many of my methods, were foolish.

My sister was the first person who made me question my conventional ideas about teaching English. She had a son in the seventh grade in a fairly good public school. His teacher had asked the class to read Cooper’s The Deerslayer. The choice was bad enough in itself; whether looking at man or nature, Cooper was superficial, inaccurate and sentimental, and his writing is ponderous and ornate. But to make matters worse, this teacher had decided to give the book the microscope and x-ray treatment. He made the students look up and memorize not only the definitions but the derivations of every big word that came along—and there were plenty. Every chapter was followed by close questioning and testing to make sure the students “understood” everything.

Being then, as I said, conventional, I began to defend the teacher, who was a good friend of mine, against my sister’s criticisms. The argument soon grew hot. What was wrong with making sure that children understood everything they read? My sister answered that until this year her boy had always loved reading, and had read a lot on his own; now he had stopped. (He was not really to start again for many years.)

Still I persisted. If children didn’t look up the word they didn’t know, how would they ever learn them? My sister said, “Don’t be silly! When you were little you had a huge vocabulary, and were always reading very grown-up books. When did you ever look up a word in a dictionary?”

She had me. I don’t know that we had a dictionary at home; if we did, I didn’t use it. I don’t use one today. In my life I doubt that I have looked up as many as fifty words, perhaps not even half that.

Since then I have talked about this with a number of teachers. More than once I have said, “According to tests, educated and literate people like you have a vocabulary of about twenty-five thousand words. How many of these did you learn by looking them up in a dictionary?” They usually are startled. Few claim to have looked up even as many as a thousand. How did they learn the rest?

They learned them just as they learned to talk—by meeting words over and over again, in different contexts, until they saw how they fitted.

Unfortunately, we English teachers are easily hung up on this matter of understanding. Why should children understand everything they read? Why should anyone? Does anyone? I don’t, and I never did. I was always reading books that teachers would have said were “too hard” for me, books full of words I didn’t know. That’s how I got to be a good reader. When about ten, I read all the D’Artagnan stories and loved them. It didn’t trouble me in the least that I didn’t know why France was at war with England or who was quarreling with whom in the French court or why the Musketeers should always be at odds with Cardinal Richelieu’s men. I didn’t even know who the Cardinal was, except that he was a dangerous and powerful man that my friends had to watch out for. This was all I needed to know.

Having said this, I will now say that I think a big, unabridged dictionary is a fine thing to have in any home or classroom. No book is more fun to browse around in—if you’re not made to. Children, depending on their age, will find many pleasant and interesting things to do with a big dictionary. They can look up funny-sounding words which they like, or long words, which they like, or forbidden words, which they like best of all. At a certain age, and particularly with a little encouragement from parents or teachers, they may become very interested in where words came from and when they came into the language and how their meanings have changed over the years. But exploring for the fun of it is very different from looking up words out of your reading because you’re going to get into trouble with your teacher if you don’t.

While teaching fifth grade two years or so after the argument with my sister, I began to think again about reading. The children in my class were supposed to fill out a card—just the title and author and a one-sentence summary—for every book they read. I was not running a competition to see which child could read the most books, a competition that almost always leads to cheating. I just wanted to know what the children were reading. After a while it became clear that many of these very bright kids, from highly literate and even literary backgrounds, read very few books and deeply disliked reading. Why should this be?

At this time I was coming to realize, as I described in my book How Children Fail, that for most children school was a place of danger, and their main business in school was staying out of danger as much as possible. I now began to see also that books were among the most dangerous things in school.

From the very beginning of school we make books and reading a constant source of possible failure and public humiliation. When children are little we make them read aloud, before the teacher and other children, so that we can be sure they “know” all the words they are reading. This means that when they don’t know a word, they are going to make a mistake, right in front of everyone. Instantly they are made to realize that they have done something wrong. Perhaps some of the other children will begin to wave their hands and say, “Ooooh! O-o-o-oh!” Perhaps they will just giggle, or nudge each other, or make a face. Perhaps the teacher will say, “Are you sure?” or ask someone else what he thinks. Or perhaps, if the teacher is kindly, she will just smile a sweet, sad smile—often one of the most painful punishments a child can suffer in school. In any case, the child who has made the mistake knows he has made it, and feels foolish, stupid, and ashamed, just as any of us would in his shoes.

Before long many children associate books and reading with mistakes, real or feared, and penalties and humiliation. This may not seem sensible, but it is natural. Mark Twain once said that a cat that sat on a hot stove lid would never sit on one again—but it would never sit on a cold one either. As true of children as of cat. If they, so to speak, sit on a hot book a few times, if books cause them humiliation and pain, they are likely to decide that the safest thing to do is to leave all books alone. After having taught fifth-grade classes for four years I felt quite sure of this theory. In my next class were many children who had had great trouble with schoolwork, particularly reading. I decided to try at all costs to rid them of their fear and dislike of books, and to get them to read oftener and more adventurously.

One day soon after school had started, I said to them, “Now I’m going to say something about reading that you have probably never heard a teacher say before. I would like you to read a lot of books this year, but I want you to read them only for pleasure. I am not going to ask you questions to find out whether you understand the books or not.

“If you understand enough of a book to enjoy it and want to go on reading it, that’s enough for me. Also I’m not going to ask you what words mean.

“Finally,” I said, “I don’t want you to feel that just because you start a book, you have to finish it. Give an author thirty or forty pages or so to get his story going. Then if you don’t like the characters and don’t care what happens to them, close the book, put it away, and get another. I don’t care whether the books are easy or hard, short or long, as long as you enjoy them. Furthermore I’m putting all this in a letter to your parents, so they won’t feel they have to quiz and heckle you about books at home.”

The children sat stunned and silent. Was this a teacher talking? One girl, who had just come to us from a school where she had had a very hard time, and who proved to be one of the most interesting, lively, and intelligent children I have ever known, looked at me steadily for a long time after I had finished. Then, still looking at me, she said slowly and solemnly, “Mr. Holt, do you really mean that?” I said just as solemnly, “I mean every word of it.”

Apparently she decided to believe me. The first book she read was Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, not a hard book even for most third graders. For a while she read a number of books on this level. Perhaps she was clearing up some confusion about reading that her teachers, in their hurry to get her up to “grade level,” had never given her enough time to clear up. After she had been in the class six weeks or so and we had become good friends, I very tentatively suggested that, since she was a skillful rider and loved horses, she might like to read National Velvet. I made my sell as soft as possible, saying only that it was about a girl who loved and rode horses, and that if she didn’t like it, she could put it back. She tried it, and though she must have found it quite a bit harder than what she had been reading, finished it and liked it very much.

During the spring she really astonished me, however. One day, in one of our many free periods, she was reading at her desk. From a glimpse of the illustrations I thought I knew what the book was. I said to myself, “It can’t be,” and went to take a closer look. Sure enough, she was reading Moby Dick, in the edition with woodcuts by Rockwell Kent. When I came close to her desk she looked up. I said, “Are you really reading that?” She said she was!  I said, “Do you like it?” She said, “Oh, yes, it’s neat!” I said, “Don’t you find parts of it rather heavy going?” She answered, “Oh, sure, but I just skip over those parts and go on to the next good part.”

This is exactly what reading should be and in school so seldom is—an exciting, joyous adventure. Find something, dive into it, take the good parts, skip the bad parts, get what you can out of it, go on to something else. How different is our mean-spirited, picky insistence that every child get every last little scrap of “understanding” that can be dug out of a book.



27 responses to “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading

  1. Jessica Lau April 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I feel that Holt is arguing that when school a curriculum requires students in English classes to read specific books to dissect every little aspect in the writing and defining vocabulary words, the student feels the pressure of forced work implemented upon him or her. It is essentially negative reinforcement that gets the students to read certain books, but not a leisurely manner. Rather, the students read the books in order to get by in class because a strange, ominous entity is commanding the student, “Read this book and dissect every single sentence you read or else you will fail.”
    I think schools do have a reason students are required to dissect sentences and look up vocabulary words they do not know. The purpose of English class is for students to improve on their writing skills and their ability to understand themes in literature. The schools hope that if students are able to understand why the author of a book chose to use certain words or write with a specific syntax, the students will be able to have a better insight into what they are reading to incorporate the professional writer’s skills into their own writing.
    From my personal experiences, I never had a problem with reading required literature because from other people, I heard that books given to them in high school were insightful and interesting enough for the books to be enjoyable. I personally thought that such books, such as “To Kill A Mockingbird”, were quite enjoyable. Other books, such as “Lord of the Flies” and “Of Mice and Men” had really interesting themes. However, this all changed when I was assigned to read “A Tale of Two Cities”. I had the most difficult time taking out individual sentences and symbols in the text, interpreting them, and I did not enjoy reading the book at all.
    As stated before, I understand why the school makes us students do this task whenever we read books, even though we may not like it, but again, this is negative reinforcement for getting students to read.
    I like how the author said that his students were allowed to read anything they want in the end. If the students provided their opinions and insights about the book teach student read for discussion in class, I think learning with novels in the English classroom will be more of a productive and enjoyable experience for the students.

    • Liam Lonegan April 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Jessica, I’m glad you did enjoy most of the books that you were forced to read throughout school. It’s too bad that not everyone feels the same, because it would make our curriculum a lot less stressful for teachers who try to balance choices that are considered educational with selections that are enjoyable.
      You did a good job putting your two-cents into a brief summary of the article. You say you understand why schools assign vocabulary and dissection exercises, and you also say how you recognize the psychology behind students who are frustrated about the decision to read or fail. Now it would be good to think about this question, especially for you since you looked at both sides: Which do you think is a better policy? To have students read what they want, as long as they are really reading (maybe challenging their skills), or to assign books and dissections? How do the outcomes compare?

  2. Chris Smith April 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I’m afraid I don’t feel the same way about reading as Jess. I feel as though we have indeed been told to break down individual sentences to observe the meaning behind our stories. I feel as if I simply cannot read without seeing every little detail, every analysis, every item being symbolic of something else. Because of this automatic analysis, I have given up reading for the most part since it racks my brain whenever I see the words; not because of the content I am presented with, but because my brain is going on the assumption that I’m going to be quizzed on the information. I still read things now and then, but never got back into books like when I was a child. Even going back to “One fish, two fish” does not ease the panic and stress caused by over-analysis. Are the fish representing politics? Red fish republican, blue fish democrat? Or do they represent a growing population slowly growing too big to contain, hence the continued addition of various types of fish.
    The abilities we are given begin to activate without our own knowledge, which fills us with fear and stress, giving us a sense of dread that makes us want to stop reading and do something else. This is at least true with me. How has analysis affected your ability to read?

    • Andrés Jacobs April 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Analysis has greatly affected my ability to read. I was never a person who liked to read a lot but it was tolerable. I recall being told that I could read what I want and I would jump to something by Tolkien or Douglas Adams or something of the sort. I even remember telling my teacher “no spaceships, no magic, no interest.” Looking back I do realize that is wrong as I did enjoy Lord of the Flies but other books like To Kill A Mockingbird were torture for me. I remember spending a lot of time on Atticus’ speech and I remember how much I hated that. Perhaps one reason is that as the son of two lawyers I’ve been to court many times and as such a court case is nothing out of the ordinary but this time it was in boring text form. I remember analyzing the speech down to nearly every word- looking at the rhetorical devices. What did what and how. But that’s not how the real world works. Did my dad prepare a speech? Sort of. He didn’t have every word planned out he just had an idea for how his speech would flow. To think Atticus could have planned that would be silly.

      Plus, I feel analyzing the book takes away from the real purpose of the book- to enjoy it. It’s great to study and learn how to write but there are tools better than looking at examples from a single author and then trying to emulate it. A book is written so that the reader can enjoy it. Douglas Adams is seldom on any great writers list but his books are some of the books I enjoy the most. I read them, get an idea of what’s happening, think about the book, and have a merry time. A book should be like a TV show- a source of entertainment leaving the reader (or viewer) excited to find out what happens next. One of the best selling prints of all time is a Japanese manga by the name of One Piece. Nobody is analyzing that story or what’s happening in it. Heck, it’s a guy made of rubber beating the crap out of bad guys. But I enjoy it and there’s nothing I’d rather read than One Piece. I believe books should be enjoyed and analyzing the heck out of them is no way to enjoy them.

    • Ashley Monaco April 22, 2013 at 8:59 am

      I agree Chris, whenever I read something I am always stressed about knowing what the symbols mean, the different themes, what certain quotations mean, etc. This was apparent when Mr. Eure assigned us the book to read 2nd quarter. Although he distinctly told us that we were not going to be tested on the book at all (ecspecially because of the grade detatchment) I still used Spark Notes while reading to make sure I understood every little theme and symbol. Because of the dread of analysis reading has become more of a burden then something I enjoy, even if it is a book I individually selected. I am constantly trying to figure out what every little thing means instead of simply reading a book to enjoy the beauty of the language.

    • William Eckner April 23, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      I think that what is happening relates back to what Mr. Eure said about “missing the forest for the trees.” I agree that it can be tedious to look at every rhetorical device in detail, but it can be fun to discuss and analyze a book. I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy thinking about what the author wanted to say or, even, looking at some symbolism.

  3. Darren Daughtry Jr. April 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I agree with Holt, when students are made to dissect every single aspect of a book students do begin feel the pressure that their teacher is placing upon them. However, no matter how dreadful the books I have to read in school are I still like to read in my free time, as long as it’s books that I choose. Although, I understand that being forced to read books and then be tested on every detail makes children hate reading. To an extent it has made me hate just about every book I’ve ever read in school.

  4. Andrew Genussa April 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I agree with Holt’s perspective on reading aloud. It puts students on the spot, and they face criticism every time they make a mistake. It doesn’t just teach students to loathe reading, but also teaches them that criticism is a negative thing and isn’t an opportunity for improvement. His inclusion of Mark Twain’s cat and stove metaphor reminded me of my third grade teacher laughing at me for spelling a word wrong. I might not have been attacked for not reading a word correct, but I recall that was when I began to loathe books. Holt believes that children would read more given the opportunity to read what they like. He supports this with evidence that a little girl who read picture books, but gradually started reading tougher works. In a world with Spongebob Squarepants and Angry Birds, children need extrinsic motivation to read. Sure, they may like stories, but they can get a story served on a silver platter on television. This article was written in 1967 and the mediums through which children learn and find entertainment are different.

    • Autumn Martin April 18, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      Andrew, I liked how you referenced the year in which this article was written. This is an important point to bring up, especially when the article is about promoting reading for pleasure. Nowadays, a child can get an equally enjoyable story in a fraction of the time and by using a minimal amount of brainpower. Yes, stories portrayed through mediums like television and apps on a phone are pleasurable, but to what degree are they put to memory? I can’t remember the plot of the last t.v. show I watched, but I could definitely recall the story lines from a large majority of every book I’ve ever read and enjoyed… just food for thought.

  5. Kristen Safford April 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I think that how Holt gets his students to read is amazing. I also agree with Andrew in the fact that there are so many ways for kids to be entertained these days without having to pick up a book, so the motivation to read is being diminished. It takes very little time and energy to get into an episode of spongebob but to get into a book would require the kids to really be interested in reading.

    Personally, I was never the type of person who liked to read in my free time. Part of this is probably because my parents, who have completely different interests as me, would hand me a book and tell me I had to read it front to back. This definitely made me have a bad idea about books because most of the books they gave me I found very boring and hard to make it all the way through. So Holt telling his kids to read the beginning of the book and put it away if you don’t like it is an amazing way to encourage kids to read.

  6. Kate Andres April 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I completely agree with everything that Holt is saying. I always hatted reading in school because of those facts but I never let it bleed into my pleasure reading. I fortunately understood the difference because my mom was a reading teacher and she would always read the book out loud to me if she wasn’t busy. I think that was how I got into reading because if she didn’t have the time to read to me and I wanted to know what was next I would just read it myself. Unfortunately my brother is a victim of what Holt says, he hates reading more than anything and to make matters worse he is currently being forced to read two books at the same time and all he wants to do is spark note everything that happens so that he can get the tests “right” without actually needing to read it.

  7. Will Henningsen April 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I was the kid who spent whole days in his room devouring series book by book. I have always avidly enjoyed reading, and it’s a therapeutic, calming experience for me. I would lose myself in adventures and stories whenever I had a bad day, and it was always exciting to open a new book and start a completely foreign tale. I never understood why people disliked reading until I read books like “The Contender” and “The Giver”. Now I know it wasn’t the books themselves, but the way that they were forced down our throats and dissected. Adventures are ones we WANT to have and the schools teachings were more like death marches to me. It slowed down everything interesting in the story, and I didn’t sit down and really read for pleasure for another half a year. Only recently have I picked up a book and started reading again, and the rediscovery of a lost pleasure has been helpful and fun for me. The way that I began reading, and the good memories that came with it really fused the love of books with me and It pleased me that Holt realized how to help those children who had lost the love of adventure.

  8. Will Kelmenson April 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    In today’s modern world, there may be various reasons for kids not wanting to read. One likely explanation is that reading is just not as fun to the average kid as are the other options. If reading is simply a hobby, then why would someone choose it over any of the newer, “superior” activities, such as playing video games or watching TV? I, myself, used to love reading, and I did it all the time, but that was before I was introduced to computers and similar forms of entertainment. For a long period of time I completely abandoned reading as a hobby, but not because I didn’t enjoy it. Instead, I stopped because I enjoyed it less than my other options. Reading certainly has its benefits, but I believe that the majority of kids today with Internet access would pick a computer over a book any day, even if, unbeknownst to them, they are actually missing out.

  9. Gabriella Maresca April 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Giving children free rein in their reading is one of the best things you can do. If you force students to analyze and take apart each paragraph of a piece of literature, it can ruin student’s relationships with literature. Books are made to be enjoyed, not used as a form of torture. Everything you take from a book solely relies on your experience with the book. If you simply read to find metaphors for example, you could understand the meaning of why the author wrote it, but not the personal meaning you could gain from it. Literature is made to make you feel a certain way; think in a way you wouldn’t have before. If you are looking for the required concepts, and those required concepts only, what are you gaining as an experience from the book?
    After reading this essay, it made me think back to the first “real” book I ever read. In this context, “real” could be defined as the first book I read by myself. The first book that didn’t contain nursery rhymes and pictures, or, the first book that made me fall in love with stories. Island of the Aunts, written by Eva Ibbotson, or known as my first “real” book. I fell in love with this story because it was different. Three women kidnapping troubled children, bringing them to a magical island to take care of animals can unlock a child’s imagination. Now that I think about it, I loved it for several other reasons. I wasn’t annotating, defining words, highlighting, or answering questions that questioned the Aunt’s sanity. It was the insanity of the entire plot that kept me hooked. If a teacher was to immediately say its wrong, illegal, despicable what the aunts did, would my feelings be changed about the book? The freedom of reading was enough to keep me occupied and content. The simple idea of just reading has escaped the regular curriculum, slowly but successfully pushing students away from literature.

  10. Danielle O'Brien April 18, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Holt is totally correct in everything he said. By giving books “the microscope and x-ray treatment” and forcing students to “look up and memorize not only definitions but the derivations of every big word that came along” causes students to not like reading because they are being forced to “understand everything.” Sometimes not understanding every minute detail is a good thing because you can spend more time on understanding and thinking about what you read and not on what makes the paragraphs, the sentences, etc. well written or what the author was trying to tell you. I think reading would be way more enjoyable if we could read what interests us and read what speaks to us. However, “exploring for the fun of it is very different from looking up words out of your reading because you’re going to get into trouble with your teacher if you don’t.” Reading isn’t bad but if you add the dissecting of a sentence and looking up / memorizing words a pleasurable past-time now becomes one you will hate. Holt’s way of allowing his students to pick up a book and read because they want to or are interested in the topic is the best idea. It will probably solve the problem of kids hating to read, I also like the philosophy behind it his choice, “if you understand enough in a book to enjoy it and want to go on reading it, that’s enough for me. Also, I’m not going to ask you what words mean.” I feel that by having the students read whatever they want will allow students to really learn more words since it is the same way you “learned to talk- by meeting words over and over again, in different contexts.” Dictionaries are not the way to incorporate words into your vocabulary it is more what we hear everyday.

  11. Nick Santamaria April 18, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Like many of my classmates I too agree with Holt’s perspective on forced reading in schools. Just as with anything in life if you overdisect, overthink, and overanalyze something it ends up losing all intended meaning and you are left with a distorted and ficticious view of what was originally something straightforward. Probably the most signifigant point which Holt makes in my opinion is that “reading should be …an exciting, joyous adventure. Find something, dive into it, take the good parts, skip the bad parts, get what you can out of it, go on to something else.” Down at the core of writing, isn’t the author’s job to capture the reader, entertain the reader, and hold thier attention throughout the book, perhaps make you cry, laugh, learn, or walk away knowing something, or better yet FEELING SOMETHING. If we don’t like a book, wouldn’t the better option to justify that this book isn’t good because… or the author does a poor job holding the readers interest because…instead of saying that well what did so-and-so intend by thier use of hypophora here, asyndeton there, this comma here. Really? A comma? I highly doubt the author put that much thought into placing a comma where they did. Time is wasted on uninteresting facets of one sentence, sometimes among thousands in a book. Authors are meant to give us something, not have us strain to understand them. That is the sign of a ineffective, or sometimes outdated author. So I would much rather just read to read, read something that makes me feel something instead of something that requires me to make connections between far off topics, and syntax, and rhetorical devices. Not to say these parts of literature are bad, it just they serve their purpose, but not every choice has some higher meaning. Just let us read, what we want, when we want, I think adults would be just as suprised as Holt.

  12. Autumn Martin April 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    I think that Holt is trying to get at the fact that the way that school systems approach reading is completely skewed. In fact, teachers that have required reads are actually going against all aspects associated with FDR’s words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Although this quote may be out of context, teachers can easily induce a fear of reading among their students if they don’t approach the act of reading in a proper manner. Society should definitely fear the epidemic of bibliophobia being created in our own schooling systems as it can and may very well lead to an ignorant future. The cure to a fear of books is simple, and it is obvious based on Holt’s later teaching methods. If teacher’s approach reading in a more friendly/enjoyable way, student’s will have never associated reading with a negative action. Student’s should be encouraged to read on their own, and there should never be a limit or requirement for the type/length of book that a student ends up reading. I’m not saying that breaking down a piece of literature for further study (i.e., DAMAGES, syntactical analysis, literary elements, etc.) should be abolished. What I’m trying to say, and I think Holt as well, is that the way in which some schooling systems develop student readers into master readers should be redefined.

  13. Marissa Milazzo April 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    As many of my classmates have stated, I also agree with Holt. The majority of the time, when assigned a book to read in english class, we all know what that entitles. We have to figure out the theme of the chapter, the tone of the authors voice, the meaning and purpose of this metaphor, when does it end? Sometimes, in all honesty, this is what ruins the book for some. The “microscope and x-ray treatment” that Holt discusses is what can make students loose focus in the book. Instead of just enjoying the book, we now have to look deep beyond the words and discover what rhetorical device it is or what the tree hole in To Kill a Mockingbird actually means.

    I was looking on the internet and I found a picture of the microscope and x-ray treatment, however it wouldn’t let me post the URL so I’ll just type it in…

    Author: “She didn’t want to eat dinner because she does not like chicken noodle soup.”
    Teacher: Even though the author did not say it, we can infer that 17 years ago she encountered an attack from chickens while on a trip to Africa visiting her great aunt who was dying from pneumonia which she got from chickens that were being harvested for the great feast.

    Now, despite the fact of the major run-on sentence that the english teacher makes and the over exaggeration… what do you guys think of it? Do you find any truth in it/ Can you relate to it at all?

    • Liam Lonegan April 24, 2013 at 8:29 am

      You’re absolutely right, Marissa. While Holt does seem to focus more on vocabulary, we see other forms of “microscopic treatment” in Brewster, like endless symbolism in The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird. These weeks of analysis do get tiring and tedious, but I can see the other side as well. This analysis enhances our reading experience, and opens our lens to see each novel from a broader perspective. Purpose, for us, becomes more evident through this treatment as well more value to the story.

      Now, of course I agree with you that our focus loses energy when we are caught underlining and researching rather than just enjoying, but I do need to shed some light on the other argument.

  14. McKenzie Callahan April 22, 2013 at 10:39 am

    When I was in fourth grade my class was never forced to read a specific book, instead my teacher would tell us to read whatever book we wanted. When we finished we had to fill out a bookmark, these bookmarks were bright and colorful and everyone in class wanted them and everyone wanted to have the most. The catch; we had to figure out what genre the novel was, we had to write a summary, we had write the characters, the climax, etc. That all seems easy now, but in fourth grade that was tough, but I still read and I still filled out all that information because I wanted to have the most bookmarks. What my teacher did was similar to what Holt did for his class. Never once did my teacher force us to read anything, she only recommended books that would push past comfort and challenge us. I grew to love books that year. I found genres that I not only understood, but enjoyed. Holt encourages his students to read, but doesn’t force them. I agree with what he does with reading. I agree that students who are forced to read year after year, who are expected to know vocabulary, the exact plot and be able to pass the numerous quizzes, aren’t learning anything. Holt proves that just letting students read on there own or to not read at all. This will allow students to find their way and find their own journeys within reading.

  15. Colin Cavanagh April 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Like, apparently, all of my classmates, I also agree with Holt. I think that children have come to hate books, but not just because of the forced dissecting and looking deeper into everything, but also because teachers tend to define everything for us. Often times, a teacher will ask you to interpret one particular sentence or paragraph in a book, but then once you have done so they will tell you the way you were supposed to interpret the writing, or the “right” way to interpret it. The problem with this is that it makes the students feel like they cannot see the book the way they want to see it. When I read books for fun, I will occasionally try to “dissect” the writing, interpreting it in different ways and thinking about what the author could’ve been symbolizing with one particular scene or character. However, the fun part about this is that I know that there are thousands of other ways to interpret the writing, and my interpretation is probably not even close to what the author really meant.
    In school, when a teacher tries to show students the “right” way to interpret writings, it limits the student’s creativity and tells them that there’s only one answer, and if they don’t agree then they are wrong. Meanwhile, the interpretation the teacher is pushing is most likely still not what the author really meant.
    As Will said, I don’t necessarily think that kids hate reading because of school; I think they simply enjoy other forms of entertainment more. TV, movies and video games are all mediums through which stories can be told, and they all require much less effort and take much less time than reading. Additionally, students can interpret and read into these stories without being told that they are doing so in the “wrong” way. Think about it: Nobody is ever given a quiz on a TV show they just watched. Nobody is ever told exactly how to interpret the ambiguous ending of a movie they just saw. Nobody is ever asked to pause their videogame so they can observe the contrasting light and dark images between the main character and the boss he or she is fighting.
    There can be hundreds of ways to interpret one particular scene in a movie or TV show, but the best part about doing so is that, after you finally think you’ve figured it all out, nobody comes in and tells you that you’re wrong. School has trained us into thinking that books can only be viewed in one way and that if we see it in any other way then we just clearly aren’t getting the book, which is why we need to be quizzed on it weekly to be sure everyone is kept on track. Reading can be an incredibly fun process, so long as we are allowed our own freedom to see the book how we want to see it, and not how a teacher wants us to see it.

  16. Lindsey Ragan April 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Reading through Holt’s essay, I couldn’t help but find a tinge of humor in his discussion of the awfully familiar “microscope and x-ray treatment.” This overused and dreaded method is something I think all students can recognize and relate to on all sorts of levels. In fact, I would credit this “treatment” as the majority of the reason students are so apprehensive to reading (along with a general disinterest in the book, genre, etc. in some scenarios, of course.) Like Marissa pointed out earlier, the over-analysis that many teachers and courses require butchers the idea and overall activity of reading, to put it bluntly. From my own experience, the emphasis constantly being placed on analysis’, rhetorical devices, etc. takes away from the absolute effectiveness of the story. I’ve found, often times, that when there was such a “dire need” to remember what each little object or event signaled, I lost track of what was going on in the plot and, more importantly, the story began to lack the smooth transitions and the captivating factors that it once had.
    I do agree that an analysis of the story is necessary and helpful to some extent. It is rare, however, that teachers comply with this minimum extent necessary. It’s a shame that these excessive assignments and activities have diminished students’ respect and gratitude for literature that was once so valued.

  17. Amanda Rizzotti April 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Similar to many of my classmates, I too agree with Holt. One of the most frustrating activities in English class is being forced to take the time to dissect every single sentence in the novels that we read. It causes me to become uninterested in the literature and makes me want to avoid reading at all costs. In my opinion, it all seems too forced. We have no choice in what we read, how we read it, or when we read it. The strict schedule that is implemented makes kids resent the assignments. It is for this reason alone that I am enjoying the degrading shift in AP Language. We are now being given that freedom that we never had before. We were given the opportunity to pick the book we wanted to read, and read it when we wanted to.
    However, with this being said, I can also understand why many classes implement strict reading schedules. If we did not discuss every line, have reading quizzes, or vocab quizzes, students would have less of a drive to complete the reading. Many would blow it off, knowing, in the end, it wouldn’t matter. No grade would be received for the work, so why do it?
    To be honest, if we did not have any assignments or tests on “A Tale of Two Cities” last year, I most likely would not have read it. Knowing that there would be a test the next day, I would force myself to struggle through the reading, as difficult as it was. Overall, I can both agree and disagree with Holt’s argument.

  18. William Eckner April 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    I would agree with Will and Colin in that technology has played a significant role in the decline of reading. I know that, for me at least, the television was a major reason that I never really read at all as a child.

    There are other contributing factors. As Holt mentioned, the fact that kids are forced to dissect books has had some unfortunate effects. One of which is a dislike for reading. Another cause is (and this touches upon the main idea of the passage from the 2008 AP exam’s rhetorical analysis essay, which discussed the “anti-intellectual culture” in America) the fact that reading is made out to be “uncool.” I don’t do it anymore, but I have many times been peer pressured into saying that “reading is boring,” or something like that.

    I’d also like to point out that, just as the actual act of reading has fallen victim to undeserved fear, so too has the process of analyzing books. I’m not encouraging the type of dissection described in Holt’s essay, but, eventually, students should learn how say more about a book than “I liked it” or – as is more often the case – “I hated it.”

  19. Kait Donohue April 24, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I thoroughly agree with Holt. When I was younger, I was not assigned books to read in school. However, I found myself reading all sorts of books at home. I read for pleasure and never felt pressured to finish a book. I would read in my free time rather than watching TV. I would go to the bookstore instead of the mall. As I got older, reading became an assignment. Teachers force it upon us to finish books and understand specific concepts and details that are presented in these novels. Whether these novels were boring or not, it became work. It became a task I did not want to finish. It made reading a bad experience to me for the first time. With these negative feelings, I began to reject reading to keep myself from feeling such anguish. I stopped reading almost completely. Breaking down books has ruined the enjoyment of reading, and has decreased the drive in students to read. I think many other students would agree that we “butcher” books in classes to the point where it’s hard to actually read for pleasure.

  20. Daniel DePaoli April 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

    “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading,” ironically enough, had it been the first paragraph of a 400 page novel, would still have encouraged me to read the remaining 399 pages. I agree completely with Holt’s argument, because it holds true with my school experience. This piece emphasizes not only the techniques that cause student to despise reading, but also offers this particular teacher’s solution to fix it. I felt that the piece only got better as it progressed. The final 8 paragraphs were my favorite in the entire thing. The sentence, “This may not seem sensible, but it is natural. Mark Twain once said that a cat that sat on a hot stove lid would never sit on one again-but it would never sit on a cold one either. As true of children as of a cat.” It is very difficult to remember that singular novel that turns one away from the written word, but for most of us, I think that that novel was forced upon us through schools. Reading is enjoyable as a child because you can choose the book that suits you. You have freedom of choice. Although school hide conformity and dictatorship with practices like “reading lists,” there is still too few options for kids to choose from. Our entire experience of reading may come down to the choice we make on our 3rd grade “reading lists,” because if it is proclaimed as disgraceful by the reader, then their reading career may cease to continue. Lastly, I thought that the personal experience at the end of the text was a great way to wrap it all together. Reading, as the little girl says, should be “fun.” But this fun only stems from freedom of decision. To see a small child reading Moby Dick and understanding the overall plot, while still enjoying it is not something to be taken lightly. The current methods of enforcement of literature on students in public schools must end. To replace this system, the Holt method would be a useful asset. His system works. Period.

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