That is the question asked of every high school English teacher in Australia at the beginning of a novel study.
“Why do I have to do this, Miss? Why do I have to read Tomorrow When the War Began? It’s too long!” etc.
It is a good question that often gets a curt “because I say so”. Teachers and parents do not often explain the value of what they are asking young people to do. Adults assume that the benefits are self-evident. To young people, they aren’t.
The kind of person who becomes an English teacher is the kind of person who – usually – automatically liked reading. They never needed to be convinced, and so they do not feel they have to talk to their students about the importance of reading, and of the many advantages that an individual who reads has over someone who does not.
After having been asked the above question more than once, I decided to address this issue with a class of Grade 10 students.
I made a PowerPoint and everything. Which I ended up ditching because I realized that I have an unnatural obsession with PowerPoint and that they are not always the best way to communicate a message.
So, what did I say?
I said that reading makes you more interesting.
It develops cognitive skills.
Teaches you empathy.
Makes you a better writer.
Arms you against oppression.
Helps you to reflect on your own life.
Reading opens your mind.
I also told them that if they enjoy stories, then they will one day come to like reading. Most kids hate reading only because they can’t do it fast enough. They need to read at least 100 words per minute to find reading enjoyable, and they only way they will get faster is if they practice.