The Required Reading
In a world of all assignments, the dreaded required reading reigns supreme, being dominant over all other reading assignments and keeping the young student in constant misery and slavery. Required readings have taken over schools, but for good reason. Critical reading offers obvious advantages to young students, for example, preparing students for college level writing analyses, enhancing vocabulary and speaking skills, and simply allowing the student to become well-read. Unfortunately, one problem remains; students hate required reading. Several plausible theories explain the reason for the hatred of reading the “classic” books that always come to mind when picturing the dreaded reading assignments, but most of them are merely because of the shift in patterns and activities in life in this new generation. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara was my choice of a required reading assignment picked from a list of books available for me to read. This historical fiction novel covering the entirety of the Battle of Gettysburg and the proceedings of the battle not only proved me wrong in that I actually enjoyed reading the book, it proved to me that required readings so daunting. I believe that this book should be required for students with the following criteria: the student should have to read it for a social studies class (preferably one that covers the Civil War), and the student should have this book on a list of books to choose from to decide which book to read.
In my opinion, the most important reason to read a book for a class is to read it for a specific purpose. Maybe the student’s assigned book made a lasting impact on society or the book was possibly written to explain a new scientific discovery. Whatever the situation may be, the assignment should not be merely for busy work. The Killer Angels was a brilliantly written book that studies all aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg, a major turning point in the Civil War, so this book as a reading assignment naturally belongs in a social studies class. A purpose exists for reading this book in a social studies class, for that is what the class is about, and because it is an incredibly significant time in American history. The Killer Angels stands out from other books, however, because this book is a truly unbiased recollection of the war. Michael Shaara wrote the chapters of the book from the perspective of many different significant figures in the war, and those people were both from the Union and the Confederacy. Adrian Tallent from Fire Fox News writes “The Pulitzer Prize winning book takes a look at the events immediately preceding the battle as well as the battle itself, through the eyes of the generals on both sides of war…” Reading one chapter from a high ranking soldier from the Union and then the next from an officer in the Confederacy allows the reader to have a complete understanding of what is happening in the war, and shows that the opposing sides are fighting for a reason. Being able to step into the shoes of a Confederate soldier or officer by reading The Killer Angels is a major reason for allowing this book to be a required reading assignment. Even if some people are opposed to the views of one side, having an unbiased source to base opinions from is the best way to learn, and that is what reading is all about.
The Killer Angels is an entertaining and educational read, and I would highly recommend it to any history buff or anyone who enjoys a good story. I do think it would serve a great purpose as a required reading assignment, but I do not think it must be mandatory that students read this one book with no other options. The article “Worthy Texts: Who Decides?” reads, “For teens, there’s little variety and even less choice in the reading assigned at school.” Students should read what peaks their interest, and the only way to have a required reading assignment while letting the student choose what they want to read is by allowing the students to have a list. This method is how I was able to read The Killer Angels. I had to choose a non-fiction book from a list of books. Although I do not like history much at all, the only exception to my dislike of history is learning about the processes of the preparation and the fighting of war. That is why I was glad to see out of all the history books on the list there was a story about war. The Killer Angels proved to me that I could enjoy reading a historical book. I loved reading about the inside happenings of each army and learning of their plans only to see how their plans are executed. Before I knew it I was knee deep in the story and could not put the book down. Unfortunately, many students are not as lucky as I was, and they are given a book with no option and are told to read it and do an assignment on it. This method seems far less appealing to me (and I’m sure most other students), because the student is not getting the chance to read a book he or she might enjoy. Furthermore, if the student does not enjoy the book they will not comprehend it nearly as well, and he or she will be less likely to read more.
Lastly, I think that a primary goal in a reading project is to show that reading can be fun, interesting, and entertaining. Required reading projects should try to get kids to read for fun. As I was looking through the list of books I could choose I thought I would hate anything on that paper. After I picked The Killer Angels out I dreaded reading it, but once I was past the first chapter I could not put it down. Not being a history fan at all, I found it impossible to believe that there would be a book on history somewhere that I would actually enjoy. Too many people in today’s society lack the desire to read because they believe that they won’t like any of the books available to read, so they never find the reason to pick up a book. The article “Worthy Texts: Who Decides?” give a series of statistics:
Nearly half of all 18-24-year-olds read no books for pleasure.
Less than one-third of 13-year olds read daily.
Teens and young adults spend 60 percent less time on voluntary reading than the average adult does. (Gilmore)
These statistics are tragic. A generation that does not read contributes to an uneducated generation. I think the main reason today’s youth is not reading quite to the extent that they should is due to the exponential growth that have occurred in social media sites in the past few years. These websites are not just holding back all the possible readers, but they are hurting the students’ ability to comprehend harder material well. The article “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?” made the claim “The more students become habituated to [reading blogs, chats and comments], the more they will eschew a slow and deliberate pace; or, rather, the more they will read quickly and fail to comprehend.” (Bauerlein) I found this quote to be true. No one ever thinks that something as simple as reading a few Face Book posts would hurt, but in the long run they do. Students should enjoy reading, and should read interesting material. That is why I recommend The Killer Angels as required reading.
From reading The Killer Angels, I have come to learn several lessons. Required readings are used for good purposes. I can now grasp the reasons for both the Union’s and the Confederate’s reasons to enter the war, and I know why the Confederates failed to take control of Gettysburg in the end. I also learned that I can enjoy history books; I just have to find the book that suits me best as The Killer Angels did. I have also come to believe that students would be fonder of reading assignments if they only had a little freedom to choose which book they would like to read, or which genre. The biggest lesson I have learned, however, is that everyone should read. No matter if the book is for fun, for school, or for killing time, everyone should seek the advantages that come with reading. The more we as Americans read, the more educated we become, and the more aware we become with our surroundings, making for a smarter, stronger America. After reading The Killer Angels, the world of required readings became a little less intimidating. The Killer Angels was a good start for me, but I have much more reading to do.
Bauerlein, Mark. “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?” Educational Leadership, Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Jan 2013.
Gilmore, Barry. “Worthy Texts: Who Decides?” What Students Need to Learn. Mar. 2011: 46- 50. Print.
Tallent, Adrian. “Book Review – The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.” Fire Fox News, 3 Mar. 2010. Web. 15 Jan 2013.