Problems with Outside Reading (Editorial)

Crucial reads fill the outside reading list, with authors ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Mark Twain to our own former teacher and alumnus Michael Moran. There is no debating that the teachers have chosen the best books for the students, but what about the tests over these literary works? Maybe this is where they fall short. The books tests generally consist of a collection of around 25 multiple choice questions and maybe a few matching questions involving the characters. All of the questions test over the objective part of the book.

In my opinion, this is the incorrect format for these tests. The sole reason the teachers assign these books is to educate the students on themes of literature and ideas from brilliant authors. These books are portals into the minds of writers and different times. The students are supposed to learn about life and about humans, humans other than the ones in their immediate area; not to learn whether a chair was burgundy or sky blue.

The teachers do not pick the books for their minute details and the authors did not write these books for this reason. These books were written as an expression, as a lesson, for education and for enjoyment. The books were not written to be scanned for countless hours. The specific details are not what are going to make us better men. The details are not going to make us have an appreciation for literature. In the words of the great American author Henry David Thoreau, “Our life is frittered away by detail…”

Hard work, dedication, and studying are all important to be successful. However, if reading a book becomes solely a tedious task of memorizing and scrounging deep for details, it becomes less enjoyable. Reading these books should be something students look forward to. By making the test only objective, the teachers are only perpetuating many young people’s hatred of literature. Books should be read to understand and live someplace that we simply have not been before. The students are not reading nonfiction, so they should not be tested exclusively over facts.

Most of these problems could be solved by a half subjective and half objective test, one that is more writing-based rather than fact-based. The facts and details in the books are still important. The author would not have written them if they were not, but the author’s ideas are just as important if not more important than the facts.

I am not saying this will instantly create a greater appreciation for literature, that the test scores will rise, or that the grumbling will subside. I am saying that the intention of the outside reading assignments will be better fulfilled and that if a student can articulate what the author’s ideas are it will help the students be more mature readers.


An English teacher’s response to the editorial can be found here.

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