Midweek @ Musings: Required Summer Reading Revisited

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!

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5 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Required Summer Reading Revisited

  1. No, I don’t think you are over-reacting, Laura. I am amazed at how low the expectations are as you outlined them! The real tragedy is that these kids will go off to college completely unprepared for the onslaught of work and depth of reading they will have to do…many will stumble, maybe even drop out of school. This next generation is our future…so I think we all need to be concerned. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I think I would be contacting the school and asking some very pointed questions.

  2. No, you aren’t over-reacting. This is blatant dumbing down. University isn’t for everyone but College shouldn’t be perceived as a second-rate default but a viable choice for someone who has a different skill set. I’d be questioning this.

  3. @Wendy, that’s exactly my concern — what will happen when they go off to post-secondary education?

    @Tui, university and college are synonymous in the US, so “college prep” is designed to prepare someone for university education. There are other tracks in the school for those who may pursue a less ambitious post-secondary curriculum, or attend a trade school. So this is really a shame.

  4. That doesn’t seem fair: the distinctions you’ve described seem like the distinctions I’d expect from one end of the spectrum to the other, not between the two “top” tiers.

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