Last week’s post about my daughters’ required summer reading generated some good discussion, both about encouraging kids to read, and about the book lists themselves. Eva asked to see the full reading lists (I gladly obliged in the comments), and I noticed that all of our high school’s English classes had posted their summer reading assignments online. Curious, and being a fan of all kinds of lists, I had to take a look.
And then I got angry.
Our school district offers several English tracks: general, college prep, honors, and advanced placement (college-level courses). Each track is tailored to the students’ abilities, and naturally the expectations differ. But come on now. There is a gigantic chasm between the honors and college prep requirements. Where honors and AP students are expected to read 4-5 books over the summer, college prep students are required to read one book. Yes, that’s right: ONE BOOK. And the chasm isn’t just about quantity, but quality as well. College prep students don’t just read one book, they all read the same book. And what are they reading? Great works of literature? Books that encourage critical thinking, or expand their world view? Generally, no. How about Tuesdays with Morrie, or The Last Lecture? Full marks to one class, which is reading Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Others are reading “inspirational” rubbish. What’s up with that?
But wait — the chasm grows ever wider. Honors students must complete assignments along with their reading. Assignments include a dialectic notebook for one book (a detailed process of dissecting a book as you read), critical essays, and preparation for projects that will be completed during the first month of school. College prep students are just expected to “take active reading notes,” because they will discuss the book in class, and there might be a test.
College prep? Really? Our school district has been criticized for catering to the ends of the bell-shaped curve, and failing to meet the needs of most motivated, college-bound students. This is a case in point. If the college prep summer reading assignment has been “dumbed down” to this level, I shudder to think what the full course syllabus looks like. How competitive will these students be when they enter the college admissions process? How will this influence their future course of study, and their ability to work in their chosen field? I know one book doesn’t make or break a life, but I find all this very disappointing and disconcerting.
Am I over-reacting here? Tell me what you think!