Reading Habits of South Students Dwindle

Photo by Annabelle Elmaleh

By Eddie Fleming

Opinions Contributor

Reading for pleasure is a popular activity at this school, according to a poll of 72 South students. Fewer than 17% of students did not read any non in-class books during the first term of this school year.

Settling down with a good book is not as common at South this year as this statistic would indicate, however.

“[If] you look over time 10 years, 20 years, high school students are also reading less than they did,” librarian Jennifer Dimmick said.

29% of responders to the question “do you regularly read for recreation?” selected “not regularly” and only 21% of responders answered “frequently.”

This too is somewhat misleading, however, as the 50% majority chose, “I read for recreation, but my time is too limited to do it regularly.” About 57% of those polled also answered that they found reading enjoyable.

“I think part of it’s [having] less time,” senior Abby Lass said. “Part of it’s also that I think, just mentally, I’m exhausted. I make time to watch T.V. but not to read, so I think that just says something about my mental capacities after taking a bunch of classes and doing a bunch of extracurriculars and everything.”

Freshman Nick Fisher has a different experience.

“I do have time to read,” he said. “I would say it’s not [a time issue] most of the time, though physics and English give me a lot of work.”

Different grades, of course, have varyingly loaded schedules, and therefore students have varying amounts of idle time to spend on reading if they so choose.

“[As] students get older, they tend to read for pleasure less, partly because they have less time and partly because they have things that they find more interesting to do with their spare time,” Dimmick said.

It is also worth noting the different means through which students read, as well as where the material they consume comes from. 40% of the students polled spent more than an hour a day reading on electronic devices, and 56% read online articles or webpages frequently.

This may be because these forms of reading take less time to finish than a book.

“[With] a book, it’s kind of like you have to invest some time out of your life,” freshman Matt Reinstein said. “You’re kind of devoting some time to read a book, but with an article it takes maybe a half hour at most to read.” 

The other reason traditional reading is diminishing is the increasing popularity of reading electronically. “I read articles more because I’m on my laptop more and I’m on websites more,” Reinstein affirms.

English teacher Julie Stonehill said, “one of the things I try to do and that I think encourages reading is giving kids time in class to read, because a lot of kids don’t have time out of class and so that’s why they end up not reading.”

To summarize, the reading situation at South as a whole is not so much a dislike of the act that leads to a lack of reading, but simply having something better or more important to do instead. It follows that if students have less time when they’re not doing anything in particular, then they will have less time for reading; a hobby which indeed can sometimes be even more time consuming than binge watching television or paying close attention to politics (although a good deal less arduous than the latter option).

It has been established that people are reading less at South and they are reading less due to high schoolers’ limited time being spent on other things. But why does it matter?

Partially because reading has a lot of benefits.

“[There] is a lot of information out there about the benefits of reading for pleasure,” Dimmick said. “[It’s] been shown that people who read for pleasure develop more empathy towards other human beings… because they’re exposed to more situations, more people with different backgrounds etcetera.”

Other benefits are more academic. Nonfiction can actually be quite enjoyable, as the world is a big place with a lot of interesting things to learn about. Reading of any kind can also improve your vocabulary, at the very least.

Finally, a major detractor to not reading is the fact that those who don’t read are missing out, not only on information but on the pleasure and thrill of reading. There is a never ending well of interesting stories and ideas in literature, entirely missed by those who don’t partake in it. Books can, contrary to popular belief, be a lot of fun to read– at least, until you get wrapped up in a interesting book and realize it’s 1:53 in the morning.

Ultimately, how much students at South read is not a controllable factor. However, as forcing kids to read for pleasure is somewhat of an oxymoronic concept.

“I feel like if I’m pushing kids, then I’m taking away from the pleasure of reading,” Stonehill said, “so what I like to do is provide opportunities for kids to pick out books by going to the library and provide opportunities for kids to read in class.”