Without the pressure of school, homework and exams bearing in my mind, this winter break has allowed me to ease back into enjoying the activities I love most. Within these past five days of freedom, I have already finished two books, and am well into the third. I’ve always loved to read, and having the free time to do so has given me the chance to recall all the literature I am missing out on when I am caught up in work and activities during the school year.
Before the whirlwind of high school rolled around, I used to be an avid reader, my nose always stuck in a different book each and every day. I would take minimal breaks, if any at all from my pleasurable past time, and would even take my book I was currently reading with me anywhere I would go. If it was time for dinner, my book was sure to be tucked beneath my seat for easy access the moment I finished eating. If my family took a drive absolutely anywhere, I was sure to be reading in the car ride there. And in this committed relationship with literature, I was nurtured academically all throughout elementary and middle school. All the vocabulary, creativity and imagination the books portrayed taught me to become a writer, a dreamer and a learner.
And my love for reading didn’t just come up independently. Rather, the idea of loving books and literature was a concept fostered by all my teachers at my elementary school. Visiting the library was an activity every student engaged in at least once a week, and students consistently had access to hundreds of books that they could explore. The concept of reading was glamorized as a child, and I recall participating in book clubs with my classmates engaging in discussions about our reading even as a mere elementary school student.
However, as I aged and progressed through my school years, my exposure to reading decreased significantly. The spotlight that previously shone on books suddenly diverted to other pressing subjects. The number of books I read each year dropped considerably to about one or two books a year. I no longer had the time to devote the time to engage in a good read. Rather, I had to devote hours upon hours to my homework and studying for other subjects.
I am ashamed to say that I hardly noticed this decrease in such an important activity until it came back to bite me. When ACT testing rolled around, the reading comprehension section, which should have simple and enjoyable for me, proved to be quite difficult. I struggled to retain information that I read as well as I used to back before my high school years, and my reading skills dropped, to say the least.
But, I am not alone in my discovered struggle with reading comprehension. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress Reading Test, about 26 percent of eighth graders and 27 percent of twelfth graders scored below the basic level, and only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders scored at the normal grade level. The ability to read proficiently is depleting among high school age students, as their exposure to literature fails to provide them with the necessary skills to perform well on reading comprehension exams.
Taking the time to get lost in literature this winter break has opened my eyes to all I have missed out on over the years. I don’t regret devoting the time I did towards studying and doing my homework for classes, but I do wish that the emphasis on reading and quality literature never deterred over my high school years. The test results students display should be an indicator that an increased number of books need to be interwoven into the high school curriculum, not only to improve the reading abilities of students, but to provide them with an expanded, creative outlook on education that only quality books can provide.
By Manal Salim