The Daily Gamecock

Column: USC students must hit the books, but not how they’d expect

Many students are falling out of love with reading just as they need it the most.

Based on the title, most people probably clicked on this article expecting to face a rant on why students should be studying harder. But frankly, with the end of semester fast approaching, no one needs to hear that right now. 

So instead, this is a plea. Students do need to be reading more, but they must do so for fun.

More than a quarter of 13-year-olds during the 2019-2020 school year said they never or hardly ever read for fun, according to the Pew Research Center. This is up from 8% in 1984.

The National Education Association said, as much as social media has played a role in these declining levels of leisurely reading, other factors are important to consider. The pressure on students to read the "right" books coupled with the tendency of students to associate reading with standardized testing and academia has created a judgmental atmosphere, which has turned many away from reading altogether.

In today’s digital age, it may be impossible to reverse the dominance of social media in young people’s lives but it is possible to make reading an enjoyable activity again so that more and more students do it.

The trick is simple. Consider putting down the textbooks and picking up something else to read. Anything else! Be it a romance, biography, crime novel or thriller, the goal here is simple: reading as a hobby must be promoted once more.

As a student, it feels as though picking up something to read that isn’t a self-help book or some drab commentary on macroeconomics is a waste of time. It often only makes sense to focus on studying and learning when the rare moment to sit down and read does pop up, but this mindset is counter-productive in practice.

The more students associate reading with academic learning and testing, the more they are turned off by it and ultimately read less, according to the National Education Association.

It is a fallacy to believe that reading fictional work is neither useful nor educational, though.

“I think that (reading fiction) exercises your brain in different ways … it makes you more imaginative and creative,” said Sharon Verba, head of research and instruction at Thomas Cooper Library. “It’s a way of expanding your knowledge.” 

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Readers can also experience more nuanced cognitive benefits from actively reading fictional works.

A study from the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab showed that those who read fiction often have better social cognition — that is they are better at reading other people’s emotions and thoughts, which can be key for navigating personal and business relationships.

So while reading fiction may not represent the conventional form of textbook learning taught in schools, the process of engaging with any piece of literature has multiple direct and indirect effects that benefit student learning experiences.

Don’t put that crime-drama on the New York Mafia down. There are free lessons in Italian-American culture and language to be gained.

Pick up the historical fiction on Chinese nobility that stands out on the bookshelf. There is bound to be useful information about ancient Chinese history woven into the narrative.

Sure, that steamy romance novel is fun, but reading it can help improve skills in social cognition.

Plus, there is no excuse to not be reading, since accessing books has never been easier for USC students.

Thomas Cooper Library offers an expansive and continuously updated catalog of popular readings which can be rented for free, with librarians on hand for assistance. Any books that are unavailable at Thomas Cooper can be requested on the library website, and USC students can get a free Richland County library card to access an even wider selection of books. 

So, let’s all try to read more. Read whatever book seems interesting, and do it consistently. Thirty minutes a day may not sound like a lot, but in a month, that’s at least fourteen hours! Read with desire and passion and there is no doubt that you will learn along the way.