Thursday, August 14, 2008
Summer Reading and Karma
Years ago, when I was first given high school students as victims, I took summer reading very, very seriously. I made a comprehensive list by researching books that would help kids either on the SAT's or in September's English class, I wrote up thoughtful discussion questions, typed them out and stapled them into packets that I mailed home. I saw nothing wrong with asking 14 year olds to read five books and answer questions on them during their ten weeks off. After all, isn't that what summer was for -- reading?
Well, no. It had been for me, but I'm only now realizing exactly how weird a kid I must have been.
My summer packets rarely came back and the more experienced teachers smiled when I complained. They told me I would be lucky if some of the kids read one book. This was shocking news to me: what was wrong with the kids in that school district? Maybe something in the town's water supply was making them lazy.
But they weren't lazy; they were teenagers. (Though it could be argued that lazy/teen
So fast forward. While I am diving for socks under my son's bed this morning, I find Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
"Why is this here?" I ask my 16 year old.
He yawns, shrugs, and turns away.
"This is required reading. Did you finish it?"
"Nah, it's just about this Jewish guy in Princeton who tells lies. And it's racist."
"Oh, right. That's a thorough analysis. Did you read it?"
"Ma, I told you. They let the writer talk about how he's stubborn because he's Jewish. You can't say stuff like that."
"You understand it's about the disillusionment of the time period after World War I, that..."
"How many books do I have to read for English this year?"
"Dude, that's not gonna happen." He yawns again. "Not when they assign books with racist writers."
"Don't you have to write an essay on this? And on the other one?"
"Last year so few kids read that the teacher just let us do it on a short story she gave out in class. Actually, she read the story to us."
(He's in college prep level English)
"You know what's going to happen to you if you don't read, don't you, Christopher?"
"Yup. I'm going to end up homeless. You've been telling me that since I was 9."
"What about if we read it together and talk about the chapters?"
Christopher smiles very patiently at me. "Mom, it takes way, way too long that way. You like go over every little thing. Just tell me what happens."
"No, that would ruin it."
"You know what would be cool?"
"Not Spark Notes...please, anything but Spark Notes..."
"No, no, but why don't they just make video games out of these books and take out all the slow parts? Then we would do them. And it wouldn't take so long."