High school students reading at fifth grade level
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 2, 2012 00:04
This GOP race has absolutely baffled me. We spend so much time talking about topics that will never be resolved fully, thanks to prejudice or religious reasons, but we don’t look at things that could threaten future leaders. Where’s the education debate?
Education laws are being passed in individual states consistently and have been pressing in the news for the last year at least. The laws are basically out of the limelight now that the presidential race is heating up, but that doesn’t change the fact that what/how we teach our children is changing, and we need to be more aware.
An example: A recent study concluded that most high school graduates—you know, those kids going on to college or beginning careers?—don’t read above a fifth grade level. Kids graduating aren’t reading books any harder than they did when they were ten years old.
The study didn’t take into account the CONTENT of the books that were being read, so there may be violence and social themes. They only examined the actual words, sentence length and such, so if there are adult themes, then of course it shouldn’t be read by an elementary-aged kid.
But when the actual structure of the book was in question, fifth and sixth grade reading levels were the most popular for young adults. The list included all three of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” books (roughly a 5.3 grade level), Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” (4.3), Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” (5.6), Elie Wiesel’s “Night” (4.3), the “Twilight” novels (not even reaching a fifth grade level), and two of Nicholas Sparks’s books (at an average of 5.3).
Looking at the list, some are more intense than the grade levels their words suggest. No fourth grader would understand the cultural oppressions and the complex themes in “Of Mice and Men,” and the Holocaust in Wiesel’s “Night,” of which the author was a survivor. The actual content of the books need to be brought into question before we say what is or isn’t appropriate for English classes or young readers. Notwithstanding, books like “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight,” and Sparks’ “Dear John” aren’t exactly mentally straining, and are still overwhelmingly popular amongst kids our own ages.
I understand that not every book we read needs to be Dickens; I’ve read the “Twilight” series (unfortunately), along with “Harry Potter” and several other books deemed fifth and sixth grade levels.
At some point, though, reading is about learning new things and challenging ourselves, expanding our vocabularies and stretching our mental limits to new heights. And no offense, but that’s sort of hard to do when you read Stephanie Meyer, and you’re supposed to be studying words like “acrimony” and “juxtaposition” for the SATs.
So where are the educational standards headed? I know that, in my senior Honors English class in high school, we got to choose books to read from a list; I considered donating a couple of them to my 7-year-old cousins because they would get more out of them than I would. Where are the requirements? Sure, everyone reads one Shakespeare play a year, “Frankenstein” when they’re a senior, but is there nothing else out there for kids to read?
Books are published every day that are better for kids to read than what we push at them, and it should be the teacher’s job to present them to their students. Students deserve more than “Twilight,” “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games.” But just because they’re good stories or they make you feel fuzzy inside, doesn’t mean you stop reaching for new, bigger and better things.