While we’re on the topic of summer reading lists, somebody forwarded to me the sixth-grade-and-up reading list site for East Greenwich schools. Notably, they are assigned by theme.
For sixth graders, the theme is “Survival.” Seventh graders just get Harry Potter. Eighth graders focus on “Identity,” and ninth graders have a selection of books under “Injustice.” The themes for older students are entirely predictable progressive social-justice-warrior fodder, and with the exception of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, the subjects of the books are exactly what one would expect.
Making the assignments a little more curious, however, is a “message to parents and students” that appears on the page:
For years, our English Department Summer Reading has obligated every student to read the same grade-level book(s). Unfortunately, those traditional ways of ensuring students read are often ineffective, given students’ many competing pastimes. We’ve found that rather than encouraging a joy of reading, we’ve instead been making reading one more task to complete. Having said that, it’s important that summer reading support the thematic ideas students will be addressing during the year, while simultaneously opening new worlds to them.
In order to foster a love of reading while also supporting students academically, we’ve worked with our library media specialists to create book lists that will appeal to a broad spectrum of student interests.
I have my suspicions about the correct answer, here, but the question is: Are the school district and librarians merely reflecting students’ universal interest in “identity” and “injustice,” or are these imposed and rigid boundaries set by “the thematic ideas students will be addressing during the year” because that is the true focus of the public school? And if the latter, is the list primarily “supporting students academically” or fostering the development of the prescribed (comme il faut) ideology?
In my own experience, I recall choosing summer reading books from a list, but it seems to me they were weighted toward classics, with a few more recent books tucked in there for those who couldn’t bear the weight. The only classics on the East Greenwich list are Robinson Crusoe and To Kill a Mockingbird. How can we possibly have a shared cultural vocabulary — across regions and generations — if we don’t make some attempt to encourage common reading?
As a middle-aged guy who recently had his 25th high school reunion, I’ll testify to this: When our school experience comes up, members of my graduating class seem to value most exactly those classes and assignments that connected us with each other and our civilization, whether it involved analyzing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or sitting by the pool reading Of Mice and Men.