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The trap of fake reading

Mar 07,2017
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Former U.S. President Barack Obama is known to be an avid reader. His love for books began in childhood, and he was reading throughout his eight years in the White House. In an interview with The New York Times before leaving office, he said, “I usually have about a half-hour to read before I go to bed.” He was hardly a lame duck, but a “mighty duck” in his last year in office with his approval rating hovering over 50 percent. His reading certainly helped. He is also expected to make a fortune as he signed a record $60 million publishing contract.

Books are food for the soul, springs of wisdom and eternal friends. René Descartes said, “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.” Francis Bacon said, “Books are the ships of thoughts, wandering through the waves of time.” But books don’t become friends easily. Like Obama’s 30 minutes a day, it takes time to build a good reading habit.

How are young Koreans reading? They are far from reading well, as they are trained to be “test-taking machines” for college admission. High school students read an average of 0.7 books a month, and 8.9 books a year. They complain that they don’t have enough time to study, much less to enjoy reading.

But Lee Young-rae, who just entered Seoul National University as an economics major, says otherwise. Lee got a perfect score in the latest College Scholastic Ability Test, which was considered the hardest one in history. He has always been a top student at Haksung High School, but he said that he wouldn’t be able to get a perfect score had he not liked reading. “I read 150 books in high school,” he said. “I enjoyed books on economics such as Capital in the Twenty-First Century and The Capitalist Markets and Justice. When I didn’t want to study, I read epic novels to clear my mind,” he said. Lee mastered speed reading, which also helped him in the test.

Reading is not just a secret to get a better test score. Regardless of the grade, reading itself is valuable. But strange things are happening. Just like fake news, some students engage in “fake reading.” As colleges and universities consider reading activities along with school grades and personal statements, private academies and college admission consulting services jumped in to exaggerate students’ reading activities.

This year, 23.6 percent, or 83,231 students, are accepted based on school records, but top universities, such as Seoul National University, select over 60 percent through this selection method. So private tutoring services offer summaries of books or write book reviews for students. They charge 50,000 won ($43) to 100,000 won per book.

It’s pathetic that students would resort to fake reading. Now, teachers cannot trust students and universities have to screen pretenders.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, Page 31


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

YANG YOUNG-YU