If you’re a typical student in a typical urban public high school, here’s what you’re reading:
1. Teacher-assigned fiction. Usually in novel form, most likely in your English class.
2. Short teacher-assigned nonfiction. Usually handouts on paper, most likely in your other classes.
Here are two kinds of reading you’ll mostly never encounter:
1. News. Unless something huge happens in the world, you won’t read about current events. Teachers may use articles to enhance subject matter, but you won’t get your hands on a real-life newspaper or magazine, whether in print or digital form. Maybe you catch the news on TV?
2. Books You Choose. Even in schools that hold Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), you likely won’t read any books because (1) your school no longer has a library, (2) your teacher hasn’t built a classroom library with her own money, (3) you haven’t gone to your neighborhood public library in years because you’re scared the librarian will force you to pay your overdue fines, (4) adults in your life don’t much care if you read, (5) your friends think it’s uncool to read, and (6) it’s easier to fake-read than find a book you like. So fake read you do.
The problem with this model is not just that there isn’t enough reading happening in schools. It’s also that two really important kinds of reading aren’t happening in schools.
Current events teach young people about their world, and reading the news builds students’ background knowledge and expands their sphere of experience. And independent reading is the only way to consume enough words to build vocabulary, fluency, and analysis.
That’s why, the next time I teach, I’m going to (somehow) find a way to include current events and independent reading in my class curriculum. This will be even harder now that Common Core is pushing for more informational texts.