Summer Reading

Not that kind of summer reading. I’m talking about the assigned kind. A few years ago I wrote an article about summer reading and how ridiculous it was becoming.

Unfortunately, not much has changed.

So in honor of my children just receiving their newest, ridiculous summer assignments, I am reprinting my article here.

It seems that teachers have forgotten what summer vacation means. Only recently have I noticed the subtle switch from the summer break of yesterday to the summer prep-period that it has become today. More and more schools are sending their students off in June not with a sense of completion and relief after a hard year’s work, but with enough assignments to swiftly squash any dreams of lazy, summer days on the hammock. Students go to camp with textbooks to annotate, novels to write about, and essays to analyze. They bring their books to their places of work and spend a good deal of time, not outside in the sun, but in front of computer screens and notebooks.

At least, that is what the teachers perceive.

Truth is, in this age of instant gratification and high-tech wizardry, most students will not tackle those assignments with the vigor one assumes they need. Instead, books are SparkNoted, answer keys are purchased on e-bay, and essays are downloaded.

I don’t particularly blame them. A quick look at the average summer assignments in any given school reads like a mini-course curriculum. Read five books for one class and write three essays. Buy two science textbooks and annotate 6 chapters. Be prepared for a quiz the first day of class on the first three chapters in the math text. My personal favorite was out of a school in Iowa that demanded a comprehensive project that mapped the history of philosophy since the Bible. Based, of course, on the summer reading text.

Have teachers lost their minds?

If my boss were to ask me to read a few educational journal articles over the summer, I would agree that it would be a good idea to stay updated and informed. If he asked me to read the articles, answer a set of 50 questions and be prepared for a quiz that would affect my midyear review, I’d show him a particular body part he could kiss.

Summer vacation was always a chance to unwind, relax, and recharge for another year. It was a time to get some real world experiences as well – travel, work, fun. There were always summer assignments but they were usually limited to “Choose a book from the following list and write a summary.” The objective was simple; teachers just wanted students to keep their minds going. They wanted them to read a good book or two. Now, the schoolwork that kids are doing over the summer seems to only serve the teacher who can claim demanding classes and high expectations. Or they serve overbearing parents who need to show off the difficult work their child is capable of doing and maybe feel as if the kid has a head start into the college world.

I find it hard to say that it benefits the student. A true benefit would be to let them enjoy their summer, practice what they learned in the real world, and develop a sense of what they truly want to do with their lives. Don’t set them up for failure on the first day of school by giving them work over the summer that assumes the child is doing nothing important.

Fun is important. Leisure is important. Lying on a hammock is important.

Annotating Frankenstein, which one school assigned to their 10th grade, is not. That’s an assignment that should be handled in school, with a teacher who can guide the students. Give the students a book that is current, that will engage them and inspire them to read more. Give them books that don’t require teaching but just generate the “you-must-read-this!” response. The kind of texts that they want to discuss not the ones that they are required to discuss.

That is a summer assignment that will create lifelong readers and thinkers.

My ten year old daughter has to read three books and write three book reports over the next four weeks. She recently asked if she could just Google the books and write the summaries from there.

How quickly they learn. I just wish the teachers would.

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