Time to get my annual anti-summer reading rant out of the way.
The conventional thinking about required summer reading is that without it kids will fall into the “summer slump.” What I always see as the argument is that without summer reading kids “slide back” two months in their education, which then requires two months worth of review at the beginning of the school year to get students back up to speed.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with this thinking. With this sort of 5:1 ratio of learning to loss do we see similar problems after a week’s vacation, where kids have to spend their first day back reviewing what was taught the week before the vacation? In a six hour school day, have kids already forgotten what they learned in the first hour by the end of the sixth hour?
What about other subjects? Surely without the regular reinforcement math and language skills slump over the summer as well, yet we don’t see the same push for these programs (though I do know they exist in some places).
What is known is that without school during the summer there seems to be a measurable slump in literacy. And anecdotally when summer reading programs are in place (and generally must be enforced in some way) the slump is prevented. This would suggest that either we are failing to meet our children’s educational needs for year-round learning (an economic impossibility as I understand it), or a failure of education in general.
The failure comes in raising a culture of students who have no desire to read unless they are forced to through summer reading.
Seriously, if we raise a culture of learners to believe that reading is something that is programmed, and only to be done when required, can we really be surprised that reading drops off the minute their formal education ends? What’s a two-month slump between school years compared to the decades adults spend not reading because they aren’t “required” to? If we as a nation have a problem with the populace being unable to parse their way through the doggerel of punditry and the inability to sort out media bias from true journalism, how can we expect anything less if we train young minds that reading is a programmed activity to be endured until graduation?
I won’t dwell on the problems of economic inequality and access; it’s too obvious to ignore the fact that towns with money for good schools and libraries and better teachers aren’t going to see the same problems as those who are lacking.
Let me make clear, I am not against reading, or even reading during the summer. What I am against is the notion, practically a blind cult-like belief, that summer reading programs are a panacea to a far larger problem we are unwilling to address. We hear the national conversation about education, about the importance of it, and yet will not accept any responsibility for the underlying problem: given the choice, many children would not choose reading as a free-time activity. Blame what you will – internet, parental influence, economics – but don’t blame the children and don’t place the additional burden on them to correct the problem.
Required summer reading is the band-aid to a gaping wound that is never completely dressed. It becomes a flag around which people rally to make themselves feel as if they are tackling a serious issue when they are not. Kids should enter the summer wanting to read on their own, asking their teachers and librarians (and parents) to recommend books to them.
If we as a society have made the right choices in deciding how our children are educated, in how they consume media and prioritize their free time, then our children will enter summer not only charged up by the freedom to explore extracurricular activities but ecstatic about the possibility of being able to read anything they want as well.