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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ODU chapter.

As a child, I adored reading. When I was in the first grade, my class joined another class of students a few years older than us so that they could read part of a novel to us. That same day, I asked my mother if I could read a chapter book like the fourth graders did—the first chapter book I read was called “There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox.” That year, I grew to adore the Junie B. Jones series and throughout second and third grade I began to obsessively read as many of the Magic Tree House books that I could get my hands on. In the fourth grade, I read “Catching Fire,” because the cover looked interesting and my mother told me I wasn’t allowed to read “Hunger Games,” so I thought I’d cleverly deduced a loophole by reading its sequel (although eventually I read it anyway of course). This was the year I got a Kindle, and in the fifth grade I read “Divergent.” Reading had quickly become one of my favorite pastimes, and although some of my classmates had phones in elementary school, others still read and I was content with my weekly library trips to fill my free time. My reading comprehension skills, along with my spelling, developed faster and sharper than my other skills because of how much I read in my spare time. Throughout my life, these skills have assisted me greatly—whether it’s articulating myself well, succeeding in writing assignments or understanding real-life occurrences in the world I’ve grown up in.

A few months ago, I came across a video of a seventh-grade teacher expressing his concern over his students reading at a fourth-grade level, which was Stitched by a seventh-grade English teacher, user MycahAngelou (@themmefatale_ on TikTok), sharing similar concerns of his own over his students having immense difficulties reading and writing. He noted specific spelling troubles, citing words like “window” and “important” and “though,” emphasizing that these struggles are, in fact, genuine. 

Mycah notes, “I could ask them, ‘Who’s the main character of your story?’ (the story of four paragraphs of what we just read). Can’t tell you. They don’t know. They don’t know.”

I recall watching the video twice because I was fascinated yet jarred by the surreality of the issue. The comments only brewed further disbelief, as they were filled with similar anecdotes from other educators with such similar struggles. I have no connections to the childcare world and have no child siblings, so neither parenting trends nor K-12 education scruples are things I am currently well-versed in. This new information deeply disappointed me, partly because I found so much joy in reading as a child and partly because this lapse in development raises so many concerns for the future that these children will someday have an impact on.

As it turns out, like many other things, research finds that a child’s enjoyment of reading and their motivation to do so stem from their belief in its importance, which is perpetuated by their role models. Typically, this looks like a parent who believes reading is important and shows it through ways like providing books for their children and even reading in front of them. 

Apparently, 83% of parents feel that it’s important that their child read books for fun, but as their children age, 67% of parents of children ages 15–17 are less likely to say reading is important. The responsibility to nurture a child’s literacy does not fall to only their teacher, but to their parents as well. Without proper encouragement at home or an innate curiosity (which stems from opportunity anyway), children will not care to read and will not have any reason to try as soon as it occurs to them that they do not have to.

A child’s interest, and in turn, their motivation, are crucial factors in their academic development. Mycah created a follow-up video from his original Stitch going further into detail by reflecting on his experiences with his students. Although many—myself included—may come to the conclusion that this literary decline can be chalked up to screen time at too young ages, this may not actually be the case. He noted that he is 23 years old and grew up around the time that iPhones came out and social media rose in popularity—he had both while still keeping up with his studies along with his peers, prompting him to then say, “I don’t necessarily think it’s technology’s fault, either.” 

Regardless, Mycah continues by stressing, “The only way to get better at reading comprehension is to read.” It became necessary for his class to read simpler passages to work on reading comprehension because the skill was never mastered when it should have been, which would be three years prior in the fourth grade. Educators like Mycah are filling these learning gaps instead of teaching grade-appropriate content likely because of educational struggles during the pandemic.

“It’s not just that the kids don’t have the knowledge. They don’t care to have the knowledge…it would be different if kids were struggling, or had gaps, and wanted to know more, and wanted to try, and wanted to get better. That’s something that we all could work with.” He regretfully continues by including the fact that educators are struggling to motivate students to care about their assignments and their poor grades.

This is such a significantly devastating issue because as Mycah and many other educators have expressed, this generation of children will be our future doctors, lawmakers and teachers of the generations to follow them. A future world of devolved reading comprehension is a world separated between the articulate and the inarticulate, when society would benefit wholly from an entire generation of literate, well-developed minds.

As previously mentioned, it is not possible for a teacher to nurture a student’s mind alone during a small portion of the 24-hour day. It is a shared responsibility between educators and guardians to ensure that a child is not just distracted throughout the day, but rather stimulated productively. Relative to reading comprehension, this can include encouraging all kinds of reading, investing in local libraries and creating a comfortable space significantly for reading amongst other methods.

Reading Rainbow was a TV show originating in the 1980s that I recall adoring when I was younger. Host LeVar Burton would teach lessons on history and music as well as feature different children’s books, and the show would go on to receive numerous awards. I wanted to conclude this article with a statement that emphasizes the importance of books for the future of our world, but Burton said it best for parents:
“We must unite in our shared responsibility to help kids learn how to read and inspire a lifelong love of reading…change has to begin with each of us. Our children’s futures are on the line.”

Cristina Rodriguez is a second-year student at Old Dominion University. She is the Culture Editor at Her Campus ODU and is currently majoring in English, Technical Writing. In her free time, she enjoys going to the beach, scrolling on Pinterest and rereading a good book. She also loves to spend time with her bunny, Cesar.