Summer Reading Policy: Good or Bad?

With the last day of school, every student forgets about education and dives into planning his or her joyful, unobligated summer. I wasn’t different. As any other teenager, I call for a relax time, unrestrained by homework or school-related tasks like summer reading assignments. My summer plans included various trips, meetings with friends and, if weather was inappropriate for these, movie and reading sessions, but not that kind of reading as required by English teachers. I would read, but something like a magazine article or a short detective story, not like those hundreds-paged novels that keep going and going. Of course, I agree that kind of reading is extremely important for developing minds, and I surely support summer reading requirements, but Murrow’s summer reading policy is imperfect, more now than a year earlier.

The reading problem among teenagers is not something new or unusual. The psychology of a teenager, only one step from adulthood, makes us think that we are omniscient and that time spent reading is wasteful. According to Jonathan Kozol, this attitude and no solution to it causes 50 percent of American adults to be unable to read an eighth-grade level book. The numbers like these show how illiterate American society is. The United States, a role model to less developed countries, should be ashamed that its average citizen can’t understand what he is reading. Therefore, the presence of summer reading requirements for high schools students is vital for future intelligence and status of people.

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However, this policy won’t be right if summer reading requirement would consist of only one book. Reading one book in a period of three month is surely not enough when teenager have so much spare time. According to National Right to Read Foundation, 20 percent of high school seniors can be classified as being functionally illiterate at the time they graduate. Thus, a couple years ago, my High School’s Communication Art Department realized the potential consequences of students not reading and set summer reading requirements to enrich our skills. I spent three summers reading books assigned by school.

What can I say? I didn’t want to read, but I did because my grade depended on that and later I found it beneficial. Last year, students had a choice of five books, and having to read only one, I did my research on each choice. As a result, I picked the one that interested me the most – Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. This was a fascinating book, full of action, mysteries, and riddles, that incorporated my mind, analyzing protagonist’s actions. Even though it is a fiction, it offered a lot of accurate historic descriptions and the author’s diction was far from being simple.

I can’t even say how many times I used a dictionary when my non-immigrant friend almost slept with it. But closer to the topic, that year’s policy offered five different choices so students would find what they would enjoy reading and learning. Unfortunately, this policy was changed, and not for the good. Instead of five books our choice this year was narrowed down to one. Having one choice is equivalent to having no choice.

High school is the best time for students to read as much as possible because this is the only period of life when students will have enough time and sharp comprehension and are not busy with work or college routine. Francine Prose, writer and editor, pointed out, “High school – even more than college – is where literary tastes and allegiances are formed; what we read in adolescence is imprinted on our brains as the dreamy notions of childhood crystallize into hard data.” That means that our reading preferences and the way we think are closely related to what we read in the short period of high school. As a consequence of offering only one choice to read as a summer reading assignment, schools diminish the importance of unique character and exclusive tastes. And what would the world be if everyone thought the same way and liked the same things? Reading – a mind training means – has to be associated with pleasure and reward, a sort of “exercise in wish-fulfillment and self-congratulation.

“(Prose) The intention of my high school’s one-book summer reading policy was to simplify the choice for students, and this one book, I believe, was picked as the best option. Yes, this best option is in some way correct, but, on other hand, it looks like conformity influence because there is no alternative. Among all the books we could read there is no way to find one that will appeal to all readers or reveal all aspects of writing at once. Moreover, this policy limits students in reading because when you are given many choices, you might read more than one book; when you are given one, you might read only this book and put your hand down. The goal of English class is to introduce students to vast diversity of books, genres, vocabulary, and styles. My school’s summer reading policy has to help teachers to reach that goal, and since classroom hours will never cover all sides of literature, students have to do something on their own.

To do so, summer reading has to include what the teenager would like, instead of those time-wasting magazines and what the teacher would consider “proper literature.” The best way to deal with such obstacle is to either increase the number of non-similar books to be read during the summer or change the policy so that it will offer a number of choices.