Sometimes I just ask a class: “How many of you have read this?” The response is often discouraging. While small groups are theoretically discussing the question of the day, I can clearly hear the incessant song of many a college student, bragging about how eNotes or some similar site or a Google/Yahoo search or Wikipedia etc. circumvented the arduous task of actually reading (at least they could learn to use Answers.com). And, of course, perhaps there’s a movie.
I can show ANY class why Shakespeare is so important—but not to a class that won’t read it. I love Internet sources, and I use them frequently, but I also know that the above sources are not going to offer much insight into the richness of themes in Shakespeare. Further, even if they did, students will gravitate toward what’s easiest and clearest—plot summaries, free essays (written by other students who also don’t get it) and so forth.
Three things strike me about this--first, the tremendously low value placed on reading. By implication, this means low valuation of other thoughts and ideas. One college freshman, who came to see me for help about his grade, even explained that he literally couldn’t read the required material, since he hadn’t read anything since 3rd grade (he just got the gist of the material from class sessions, and until my class, he was even quite proud of this). Second, speed tops the values list—the less time, the better, and content be damned. In his novel “Straight Man” (a book I actually read), Richard Russo quotes H. L. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution—and it’s always wrong.” Third, the sheer arrogance is astounding—students feel they have better insight than the entire recorded history of thought. College committees worked to design programs that include courses apparently useless. Professors outline courses with no point. But students know better than anyone (ironic that they then pay money to attend the college, no?), so they blow off all that unnecessary reading bullshit.
Students who do grow to understand complain that high school does not prepare them adequately for college. This problem encompasses a number of issues, but I like to point out that college students are legal voters, and THEY help elect the school boards, THEY vote on school budgets. Hell, they can even RUN for school board! If things aren’t good—change them!
Of course, playing the victim and wondering why someone doesn’t do something is easier.