I think there should be free time for choosing to read books that you picked out for yourself--books that are completely escapist. If you love the stock market, read a book about it. Dragons? Spaceships? Magicians? Music? Foreign Countries? Go for it! Reading can be fun!
Don't get me wrong. I don't think kids shouldn't have any assigned reading. For some kids that is the only reading they will do, but...
I think it should be varied. Sure, study Faulkner. (I loved Faulkner in High School. I may have been one of the only ones, but hey! that class was for me too.) Study James Joyce or the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. Flannery O'Connor. Why not? In an educated society we should be able to enjoy literary novels. Just sprinkle in a little Sarah Dessen (still pretty literary but fun) or Scott Westerfeld. Why not a little Ray Bradbury? or Orson Scott Card? or Ann Brashares? or Robin McKinley? or James Patterson (Sacrilege, I know)? or Louis L'Amour? How about a few more books for the boys in the class! I know most of the teachers are female, but still...
And then... Give the kids free time to choose to read or not if they don't love it. Maybe they will love it when they get older. Or not. It's not for everyone. I think, though, that more people will learn to love to read if they are exposed to things that they enjoy reading.
As much as I adore reading (and that is a lot for those of you who don't know me personally), there are certain things that I just can't make myself read (not many mind you but some). I hate reading manuals. After a few words, my mind starts to shut down. My dad loves them though. I just don't get it, but we are very different people. He's a "doing" kind of person, and he loves to know how things work so he can fix them if they go wrong. I'm more of a "talking" kind of person, a "describe what he's doing" person, a "call the repairman when something goes wrong" person.
I wonder how much I'd like reading today, if all I'd ever been assigned to read in school were manuals. Heaven forbid. I'd have flunked out of English.
Beware! Personal experiences coming on. In 10th grade we were assigned Moby Dick to read and study. I think our edition had about 400 pages or so. Well, I hated it. I tried to force myself to read it. I wouldn't let myself read other things because I felt guilty for not reading MD, and reading something else would have been a reward, and I couldn't reward myself for not doing my assignment, so...I read nothing. I did everything I could think of to get out of reading MD (which wasn't hard because I had plenty to do.) I think we studied it for about 3-4 weeks maybe longer. I don't remember for sure. It seemed like forever at the time. I didn't read anything else and I only read 100 pages of MD (Sorry Mrs. 'Nab') which is way less than I would have read for the same time period normally. I still have not gone back and read it, and I have absolutely no desire to either. I swear I almost learned to hate reading, but the difference for me was that I already knew that I loved to read.
At that time in my life so much emphasis was put on "the classics" that I thought that's what I had to read even in my free time. I'm so glad my mother forced me out of that mindset. She recommended other books for me to read, and eventually, I followed her advice. If not I'd have never discovered the engulfing story in Exodus by Leon Uris that was so amazing and opened my eyes to a whole nother world and started me on a reading jag of his novels, and then I moved on to Chaim Potok and on and on.
In the summers of my sophomore and Junior years in HS I had reading lists for AP English and as a result all I read was what was on my reading lists. I didn't read any books for pleasure those 2 summers. I ended up reading less. I definitely got less enjoyment out of reading. It's a shame.
So many kids don't know how great reading can be that, when they start reading what's assigned in their classes and hate it, they come to think that they hate reading and won't do it at all. Their mantra becomes, "I hate to read!" And they read less and less. I was seeing this more and more with David. Right now he's finally reading something he enjoys, and he's discovering that sitting down with a book is not a punishment. Cornelia Funke is his favorite author now. He's never had one of those before.
One of my parents' favorite authors is Louis L'Amour. I never read any of his books until I was in my late 30's. (Silly of me really. It was that being-educated-have-to-read-the-classics mindset rearing its evil head again.) His books are so engrossing and vivid. I loved them. They taught my dad in his retirement years that reading is not so bad at that, in fact, it can be quite enjoyable. He'd thought his whole life that he didn't like to read. Come to find out he had just been reading all the wrong stuff for him. (well except for those manuals)