Assigned Summer Reading is Outdated and Unnecessary
Picture this: it’s one of those long summer days when it feels like the sun never sets. Your parent hands you a bowl of cantaloupe as you walk inside. The air conditioning makes the kitchen feel like a refrigerator, and you shiver as chlorinated water drips from your pool-wet hair. Your eyes land on an untouched library book on the kitchen table and your stomach sinks with dread. You haven’t touched your summer reading assignment, and school starts back in two weeks.
No matter how much you love reading, few tasks feel as burdensome to the young student as the reality check created by assigned summer reading. Instead of enjoying the promised break between responsibilities—the legendary pinnacle of the childhood experience—a student is suddenly saddled with the task of digesting decades-old reading material before the class even begins.
Whether the assignment is Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, chances are slim that the student will enjoy a book they did not pick. At best, summer reading becomes a nuisance as bookish students are forced to tailor their reading preferences to match the requirements outlined by their school. At worst, students learn that the task of reading is a chore antithetical to the activities of sunshine and leisure promised in the phrase “summer vacation.”
Of course, summer reading wasn’t designed with the intent of making children miserable. School systems practice assigned summer reading in an attempt to prevent the “summer slide” when students forget months of material during extended breaks. They hope that by assigning reading, children will continue practicing key learning skills to minimize the amount of review required when school resumes.
However, this line of reasoning is outdated and inaccurate. When summer reading programs were first implemented, children were spending their breaks primarily outside. Without phones, video games, or TVs, children enjoyed themselves by playing outdoors or visiting each other’s homes. Most of their education was suddenly switched from academic, classroom-style instruction to hands-on, experiential-based learning. In some ways, children continue to spend their summers participating directly in the world around them. However, most modern students also have access to the internet via smartphone, tablet, or computer. By using these tools, children can, and are, gaining informational knowledge about the world around them without ever entering a classroom. Even if they are not engaging with explicitly educational materials online, kids today are improving their reading and writing skills through text-based communication; they’re gaining crucial researching experience by Googling questions about the world around them; they’re finding content and communities they relate to by engaging in online platforms. In short, students are not experiencing the dreaded “summer slide.” They do not stop learning simply because they’re absent from the classroom.
Assigned summer reading is an outdated and unnecessary form of mandated education. With the quantity of information available on the internet, the face of scholarship is changing, and traditional academic expectations should, too. Moreover, assigning large projects during a widely acknowledged break from school teaches children to accept systemic infringement on their personal work-life boundaries. With all of this in mind, I have to ask, who’s actually benefiting from summer reading assignments? And why do we continue enforcing outdated educational traditions?
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FEATURED IMAGE BY AARON BURDEN VIA UNSPLASH