The Rundown on Reading: reading levels decrease versus media and entertainment


By Rachel Zurbuch, Executive Features Editor
After an exhausting day of traveling throughout Illinois, I was in dire need of some relaxation. I was in Urbana-Champaign on an overnight school trip through Orchestra with some of my friends and classmates. After finally arriving at the hotel after 11 p.m., I was ready to settle down and have some peaceful time.
Unfortunately, this “peaceful” time ended up consisting of going through social media and FaceTiming people with my roommates.
However, this wasn’t my idea of relaxation. After almost an hour and a half of this, I wanted and needed to spend some time by myself. Therefore, I knew what would make me feel instantly calm and better: reading. This was my idea of tranquility. I pulled out the book I was currently reading, “The Sun Is Also A Star,” and went to sit a few feet away.
I was enjoying my book and disregarding most of the outside noise for a few minutes when my friends realized what I was doing. They proceeded to ask me: ‘Rachel, are you reading?’. Which, of course, I responded with ‘Yeah.’ After a laugh they replied, ‘For fun?’ ‘Yeah, it’s a hobby,’ I said, trying to defend myself.
The next answers were an array of: ‘You’re reading on a Friday night?’, ‘Why is the title of your book talking about the sun and stars?’, ‘Why are you doing schoolwork?’, ‘Reading is academic-related’, ‘Why do you read?’, ‘You’re such a nerd,’ etc.
I didn’t realize that reading was something laughable to my friends or many peers in general. This led me to wonder what people thought of reading today and its recent levels for teenagers.
The amount of reading has declined in the past few decades according to Time Magazine; the levels of teenagers reading in 1984 versus 2014 have significantly decreased and nearly half of 17-year-olds say that they read by choice once or twice a year.
English teacher Heather Sherwin believes that the decline of reading has to do with the rise of technology and devices in her 20 years of teaching.
“I have to look at my own kid who much prefers to play his video games,” Sherwin said. “And I’m an English teacher; I’m shoving books down constantly.”
Librarian Christie Sylvester says that there are more things to entertain a student and occupy their minds with now than there were when she was a kid. According to Sylvester, digital devices are always carried by people and allow them to watch YouTube and stream movies or TV shows. This leads to a decline of people purchasing books, subscribing to a newspaper or magazine and more, according to Sylvester.  Sherwin also sees this in today’s society.
“I’ll sit at a doctor’s office with a magazine or book to read or a stack of papers to grade,” Sherwin said.“I look around, and I’m the only one who is doing something that doesn’t involve a phone.”
Sherwin also explains that movies involve a visual aspect that people gravitate towards. It also takes longer to get into a book than a movie.
“Visual entertainment feeds you what you’re supposed to see and think and feel more than reading [does],” Sherwin said.
Junior Adam Ryerson doesn’t like to read and prefers the visuals of movies and TV shows because it’s easier to retain information and the stories are told faster.
“People prefer movies… to books because they don’t have to do all the thinking,” freshman Dan White said. “It’s like a mindless thing.”
According to Sherwin, time is a big issue for teenagers. She says that teenagers have a fast-paced lifestyle and are busy, which causes students that like books to read less and students who don’t to gravitate farther  away. Ryerson feels that he doesn’t have a lot of time and would rather spend his free time playing sports or watching movies.
Sophomore Kyra Kapuscinski enjoys reading and would do it anywhere. While she doesn’t read for academic purposes, she does note that it helps expand her vocabulary. However, that is one of the reasons Ryerson opposes reading.
“[Reading is] just an unappealing feeling,” Ryerson said. “[It] feels like I’m in school.”
Sherwin says that reading is sometimes deemed the uncool, boring or nerdy thing to do as students grow up. Readers are not typically in the “popular group,” and since it’s not a group activity, it’s not as interactive, according to Sherwin. Ryerson wouldn’t make fun of someone who reads, but when he’s picturing readers, they’re a little nerdy and typically involve wearing glasses. White enjoys reading, but he does believe that there is a stigma about reading.
“I don’t see why [there’s a stigma] because reading is just a thing people do, like playing games or listening to music,” White said.
Sylvester doesn’t usually see students being mocked for reading, though she occasionally sees boys mocking other boys. According to White, boys are expected to do sports and be more strong and energetic compared to girls who are stereotypically quieter. He doesn’t know if any of his friends read, but assumes that a couple of them do.
In her classes, Sherwin tries to promote reading in the best way she can by having students pick books and giving them time to read in class. She wants students to have good experiences reading, even if they don’t read outside of her class.
Sylvester tries to help kids in the KLC pick out books that they would like the best and asks them if they like to read in order to better determine the book choice.
Kapuscinski feels that independent reading helps kids realize that there are different types of books and options to read. Ryerson, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that independent reading benefits him. He prefers the books they read in class over choice books because he isn’t driven to read them if he doesn’t have a test on the material.
“It’s easier to SparkNote [the independent reading book] and find out everything that happened without the hours of reading I would have to do,” Ryerson said.
Sherwin believes that kids will get back to reading more as adults. She knows that while technology has affected reading levels, reading is still always going to be present and an activity for some people to do. However, Sylvester thinks that digital books have become more prevalent with adults.
“Reading can represent any type of written word,” Sylvester said. “And that does not mean it has to be bound and printed and a book on the shelf, and I tell that to students all the time. You don’t have to be considered a reader by reading a book.”