In every school I know of, kids are required to read certain books throughout the year, handpicked by the district curriculum. Some schools even require that kids read specific books over the summer.
Now summer reading was one of the highlights of my summers, showing again what a total nerd I am. Each year we would get a list of books to pick from, choosing one or two to read and do a report on. Some of my favorite summer reading books were The Giver, The Book Thief, Jane Eyre, Define Normal, etc. But I realize summer reading does not bring a joy to everyone.
Required reading may be important, as it provides kids with tools they’ll need in the future. For example, sludging through a textbook can help them prepare to get through boring material. Reading for tests or papers gives kids the ability to pick up key points from a text. Reading in general can help students recognize emotion and develop empathy. In short, reading is great! But is required reading all it’s cracked up to be?
One of the biggest flaws in the required reading system is that it destroys a young reader’s joy of reading before they even cultivated it. By forcing kids to read a certain text that they’ll probably find boring, we’re teaching kids that reading is only for grades and homework. There’s no happiness in it. This is simply not true, but if we demolish their love for reading, they will never know the difference! This is why I loved that my school gave us a list of books to choose from. By letting kids have a choice, they have the opportunity to discover a book or genre they like and are interested in.
However, even that choice cannot fix other flaws within the system. Another which is access. Libraries are great–the true heart of education, I believe, providing access to books and computers for free. However, there may be people who don’t have easy access to the library due to transport issues and location, and may not be able to afford buying a book either. Is summer reading punishing them for their class and lack of wealth? Perhaps there is a way for kids to choose their summer reading book before the end of school and borrow that book from the school library for the summer.
There’s also the problem of bringing school work to what is supposed to be a vacation from school. As I said, I always enjoyed reading. However, for those who view it as a chore, they may come to despise it even more because they were forced to give up valuable free time for it. Besides, we should also encourage play, especially for kids, and summer is the perfect time to let them play outside. I do wonder if summer reading should be more about reading for fun and less about the assignment that is paired with it.
In short, I believe reading is great and important for everyone. We should really be encouraging kids and students to read. However, forcing assignments over a break time is not the way to do it, as this will only make the kids resentful and isolate disadvantaged families even more. Perhaps there is a middle ground that includes choice, accessibility, and a way to think about the book without it being some tedious project.
Let me know your thoughts!