Friday, June 26, 2009

The cultural significance of summer reading lists 

My old prep school's 2009 "summer reading list" is a lot less demanding but a lot more directive than it was in 1979. Back then, they told you to read a huge pile of books in the summer before you arrived at school; I believe I got through something like 10 of them, only to learn that many of my less ambitious peers had largely blown it off. Now the school is clear that you must read at least two books, annotate them, and prepare to be tested on them.

Candidly, I'm not sure which approach is better on average, even though the old school method worked well for me. I do know, however, that each seems to fit with the dominant child rearing paradigm of its decade. Back when hair was long and pot was harmless, the educated parents of the Silent Generation basically figured that if they exposed you to many different things your muse would find you and their job was done. Now, the unstructured children of that era, perhaps in reaction, manage their own kids down to the method of note-taking and the color of highlighter. That they and the school they hire should dictate the summer reading should come as no surprise. That does not make it any less depressing.

Anyway, I for one will be fascinated to see what outrages today's children visit upon our hapless grandchildren.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jun 26, 11:18:00 PM:

First off, thanks for posting that list: now I can monitor my son. Second, the "annotating and testing" part of all this is very recent. The oldest of my kids finished L'ville without having seen any mention of summer reading in fall classes, the middle one started to hear some noise a couple years back, but the third is now subjected to actual reviews of the reading he's done. Too bad, since interest runs in inverse order and the eldest would have loved being tested on her reading while the youngest would much rather write on the subject of "my summer vacation".

As far as our overly officious generation and it's crazy enforcement of rules none of us lived by as children goes, I always tell my children what my mother tells me about Obama: This too shall pass.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Fri Jun 26, 11:39:00 PM:


What these micromanaging educators forget is that ultimately those who succeed best in life follow what they love doing, as opposed to being those who best complete assignments.  

By Blogger Tigerhawk Teenager, at Sat Jun 27, 02:26:00 AM:

Oh, your grandchildren will have NO hap. I'll make sure of that, muahahahahahahaaa!

I'm not sure I care exactly HOW my future son takes in books as long as he takes them in at all. I know that I've been terrible with taking notes, so if my kids aren't good at it either I'll be sympathetic.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 27, 06:26:00 AM:

I don't remember any summer reading list when my son,'96, was there. Of course, knowing him, he'd have just hidden it from me and his mother.

The titles of the three all school books seem kind of touchy-feely to me. Perhaps it is because they now have a female Headmaster and in my son's time they had a marine with tattoos who went on to take VMI coed as he did Lawrenceville. With a female president at Princeton, all of the education establishment has become pussified to borrow an expression from Kim du Toit.

Further down there was some blather about Red State vs. Blue State. The liberal condescension practically dripped. The treatment was extremely superficial. If you dig into the Red/Blue numbers by county you find that it's more of an urban versus otherwise phenomenon. Red states are dominated by large cities and
Blue otherwise.

JLW III P'96  

By Anonymous Keating Willcox, at Sat Jun 27, 11:24:00 AM:

1. Not much on there about science or technology non-fiction.
2. Best seller Mark Levin "Liberty and Tyranny" absent from list, more important to read than all others.
3. No sports books.
4. No cool periodicals, some articles in Scientific American or math.

Everyone wants kids to grow up as left-center intellectuals...plus ca change  

By Anonymous Patrick, at Sat Jun 27, 12:11:00 PM:

Glad to see Mountains Beyond Mountains on there, wonderful profile of Paul Farmer. Never had a summer reading list when I was a kid, must have gone to a lesser school.  

By Blogger SR, at Sat Jun 27, 01:17:00 PM:

I disagree about the "blather" titer in the Red vs Blue essay. It should probably be read and discussed by all L'Ville students, though it would be a stretch for most of any modern day high school faculty member to discuss and differentiate the fine points of Rorty and Strauss.

I can't imagine any local public HS here in No. CA to have any student population capable of understanding the essay in the slightest. Kind of sad.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 27, 08:40:00 PM:

That may have been the most illuminating link of your's I have read. I went to a very good public school in Omaha, NE. I was honors track the whole time. I can't imagine being expected to do that much work in high school. I also can't imagine being encouraged to read Fightclub or anything by Hunter S. Thompson. Even Cormac McCarthy might be vebotten. AND HOLY CRAP! Lolita? A teacher recommending Lolita?  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jun 28, 11:25:00 PM:

Summer reading lists have a large cultural element to them. They are statements by the faculty of "what we think is important. Recognise these titles as good 'uns for the rest of your life, please."  

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