“We have to read many books from medieval times, and the fact that they are always so old takes us back,” says Rubén, 16, sitting in the library of the Serpis public institute in Valencia. “And since they are mandatory, there are colleagues who come to hate reading. They say: ‘I don’t like books’.

The data show that the interest in reading suffers a serious crisis between the ages of 15 and 18. The percentage of frequent readers fell 24 points in this age group compared to the population between 10 and 14 years old, going from 77% to 53%, according to the average of the barometers published by the Federation of Publishers Guilds of Spain in the last lustrum. And few of those who stop reading at that stage do so again later. Dropping out is normally attributed to the vital dynamics of adolescence, to the competition that mobile phones have represented for some time now, and to the academic demands of high school, which leaves them less free time. The study Youth and Reading 2022prepared by the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, based on the opinion of adolescents, teachers and librarians, adds a disturbing hypothesis: that the education they receive in institutes not only does not mitigate the process, but rather accelerates it due to the way in which teaches literature.

This is what Rubén and his high school classmate Álex, 14, believe. And it is one of the main conclusions of the interviews with 88 adolescents raised by the foundation’s report: “The participants have repeated, over and over again, statements about their distance ‘sidereal’ regarding curricular proposals regarding fiction literature”. And he adds: “As regards the reading proposed from the school, that is, the catalog of readings belonging to classical writing and, therefore, to the literary canon established by our educational system, the vision is hypercritical: it is attributes the ability to dissuade from the practice of reading”.

It is a concern shared by Guadalupe Jover and Rosa Linares after working decades in the classroom as language teachers: “We fear that, at least, the school does not help. In the first place, because the selection of the texts with which it is intended to teach to read literature, those prescribed in the curricula, are not usually adequate to the vital, reading and cultural experience of adolescents. We continue to be hostages of the index of national literary history, instead of opening ourselves to universal classics and current quality youth literature”, they affirm.

Jover and Linares are co-authors of the new Spanish Language and Literature curriculum, that is, the standard that regulates how the subject is learned and evaluated, which will begin to be implemented in high schools in September. Both published a forum in EL PAÍS on Thursday in which they explained the turn that France has taken in this field in the last decade. The teaching of literature for students between the ages of 12 and 15 is proposed in the neighboring country through thematic itineraries, which are usually made up of works from different periods, genres and cultural contexts, combined with other artistic expressions. Students have several of these itineraries throughout the stage. And teachers have a wide margin to design them based on their students. One of these French itineraries, Jover and Linares pointed out, could be titled “On the other side of the mirror” and include works such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, coralinethe Harry Potter saga, the movie Spirited Away and paintings by El Bosco or Dalí.

In Spain, the secondary school curriculum still in force, approved after the wert law, is focused, instead, on “the most representative works of Spanish literature from the Middle Ages to the Golden Age.” And, although many teachers have subverted the official catalog for a long time, it is not uncommon for a teacher to choose as compulsory reading for the stage the Sing of my Cidhe good love book, the celestine, The Quijote and the silly lady. Or, as the regulations also allow, fragments of them.

The new Spanish curriculum will give more freedom to Spanish teachers. And it will put an end to the “historicist” approach with which Ángela García remembers having studied, who finished high school five years ago and is now doing her master’s internship to be a secondary school teacher. “We studied literary movements, basic characteristics, names of works and names of authors… And today I don’t remember almost none of that,” she says. The readings were almost always done at home and were evaluated with an exam, García continues, describing with her experience what continues to happen in many classrooms.

“What is not normal,” says Noelia Isidoro, a Spanish language and literature teacher at an institute in Fuenlabrada (Madrid), “is that being one of the subjects that has the most hours, no more is read in class.” She spends the first 10 minutes of hers in the first year of ESO reading a novel aloud to them; “It can last us a month or a month and a half.” And the students spend another hour a week reading the same book, which they then discuss like in a book club. “The problem is that many times,” she adds, “reading is presented to them as a grammar exercise, not as what it is to read. Sometimes pleasure, others pain or contradiction; and others, seeing the light and thinking: this is exactly what is happening to me”.

Kids think that reading isolates them

The most serious obstacle to ensuring that adolescents do not stop reading is probably that they tend to associate reading with isolation, at a vital stage in which social relationships are of paramount importance, says the report. Young people and reading 2022. And the main positive trait that, according to the same study, the kids attribute to reading is partly related to this weakness, and it is the idea that reading relaxes them (at least, those who declare themselves readers) and provides them with a refuge from the “overwhelm” that the permanent digital “state of connection” produces.

The identification of reading and isolation can be partly counteracted from the classroom by turning it into a “collective” and participatory activity, points out Pilar García, who is a professor at the Serpis institute and at the University of Valencia, in which students give their opinions and discuss what they read. For this, it is necessary to have time, she continues, which the current curriculum, overloaded with content, made it difficult to have and which the new regulations can facilitate.

García believes that the students also lack time because they are “loaded with work.” “Not only from the institute, but from the complementary activities. They do sports, they go to English, music classes… We offer them many things because we want them to be better and learn more, but they are very saturated. And when they have free time, given the choice, they stay with social networks and video games.

Two of the problems that adolescents usually attribute to the books they are sent to at school are the complexity of the vocabulary and the “prolix descriptions”, points out the study by the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez. Some opinions shared by Rubén and Álex. “I think it’s normal,” says professor Noelia Isidoro, “that long descriptions bore them, because the majority of society is bored by length. We don’t connect with it. I don’t think it’s a problem of adolescence.”

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