Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why everyone hates "required summer reading"

Today is our last day of summer. The kids start school tomorrow. Whew! It was a lovely summer, to be sure, but as of late the hot topic of conversation on the normally upbeat BBQ circuit is that "stupid, cursed book for required summer reading." All the hair pulling, snarling, and gnashing of teeth has caught my attention...and got me thinking.

Even for my older daughter (who read about 25 books this summer—an avid reader to be sure), it's torture. She is like a horseless stagecoach mired in cold oatmeal when it comes to the required summer reading book and project. Honestly, I think she'd rather move to a new town, assume a new identity, and just read "the books she wants to read."

Why is summer reading required when everyone I've ever met despises the concept? Let's face it, everyone hates required summer reading. Everybody. (If you know someone who likes it, please point them out to me, and I'll assign them a book that they don't want to read for the next time they go on vacation!)

Who invented this idea? Who decided that it was a good idea for school to spoil that sanctity and serenity of summer vacation? After all, what is the ultimate goal of this cruel and unusual punishment? Does it actually achieve anything? Yes? Than show me the study that shows that it is really useful. Where's the research? Where's the proof? Where's the beef?

Teachers have told us that if they do not assign a book and project during the summer, most kids will not read a book at all. And what, is the required summer reading book supposed to engender some kind of love of literature? Ha! Or is it supposed to keep their reading skills sharp? Ha! In fact, studies I've seen show that reading one book over the summer does nothing in terms of maintaining reading skills.

Often "required summer reading" consists of just one book, sometimes picked from a list of 5 or 6 age-appropriate titles that the teacher has deemed worthy, instructive in some way, and certainly "good literature." Then why does everyone put it off until the last moment, under punishment of no texting/email/internet/video games/TV/friends/food/oxygen—whatever the threat required may be to get Jimmy or Jilly to read that godforsaken tome?

Hey, why don't we just assign a book? Any book. Of the child's chosing! Some kids like humor books. Others like biographies about people that interest them. Others would like to read about American Civil War battles. But these kinds of books are usually not offered. This change would at least make the practice less torturous. I mean, c'mon, hasn't anyone ever thrust a book at you and said "you gotta read this," but you didn't because it just didn't capture your interest? That's "required summer reading" in a nutshell.

I think the practice just builds up resentment in kids for books. The ultimate goal may be a worthy one, but in practice it's a big, fat backfire. A dud. A failure that needs to be put to rest or overhauled in some way.

So I'll go on record: Required summer reading is not only ineffective, it's worthless, resented, irritating, and an invasion of privacy into what was once the carefree joy and freedom of SUMMER VACATION.

If we really want kids to read over the summer vacation, we can come up with something better. No?

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