One thing everyone is encouraged to do is summer reading. Where I live, it was almost a requirement. From the tender age of five my elementary school passed out pamphlets promoting summer reading starting in January. Yep, there we were in kindergarten, almost aware of how words went together, and our teachers wanted us to read Shakespeare. That stuff isn’t written in the same language kids use in kindergarten. I mean I didn’t learn the meaning of the words “Thou Whilst” until halfway through second grade, and “Prithee” came years after that.
Of course, there was always the picture book version of the stories. Oh, the wonderful color palates of Hamlet killing his father, Lady Macbeth washing blood of her hands, and the ever-popular Oedipus seducing his mother. And don’t even get me started about the cartoon version of Shylock extracting a pound of flesh.
You might think I’m exaggerating and well, I am. But at least I’m doing it with a purpose, which I’m sure I’ll get to eventually. Okay, I guess now’s a good time. The reason for my sarcasm is the fact that, these days, we expect way too much from our children. I once read a study that if you listen to Mozart when your pregnant your kids will be super intelligent. The thing is, when I was younger the super intelligent kids got beat up by the stupid ones. Who would want that for their small children? The whole time my wife was pregnant, with all three of my kids, she listened to old rock bands from before she was born. My progeny turned out all right. In fact, my second son is taking college courses at fifteen and is scheduled to graduate high school with honors. So much for the Mozart theory. Maybe Pink Floyd and Queen are better choices. I’m just saying.
Getting back to the whole summer reading thing, I suppose it might be a good idea, but then I think about the fact that summer reading is done in the summer. I live in a city in the Midwestern United States and let me tell you we have precious few really nice days. As a kid I wanted to swim, hang out with friends, and play outside games. Sadly, I was on the summer reading program. I was asked, way too often, if I had finished all my books yet? No, I hadn’t. I skimmed a few pages, lied about comprehension, and went outside.
Now I’m not saying that reading programs are all bad. You just have to consider the timing. I mean, I believe summer reading programs would work a whole lot better if the days were shorter and the weather was a lot colder. You know, like winter. Hey that’s a great idea. All summer reading programs should take place in wintertime when the little tikes are sitting inside and bored anyway. If any library wants to run with this idea, go for it. I won’t even ask for any royalties. Consider it a non-monetary donation. However, I wouldn’t try to claim it on my taxes if I were you.
Another thing about the whole summer reading bit, is the pressure. I don’t know about the school you went to, but in mine, reading was a full-contact sport. The teachers became team owners, with your class as the team. Librarians were like the coaches and trainers. I can still hear Miss Anderson’s locker room speech as if it were yesterday: “I know you’re hurting. I know your head aches with the constant pounding of words through those tired eyes of yours. You may even be thinking of giving up and playing ball on this nice warm day. But think about it for a second. Gail Sampson isn’t going to give up. Neither are any of other the kids in room 2. Don’t ever forget, you are in room 4. Four is double two. Are you going to let the half room do better that you? ARE YOU? NO, I say! I saw the vocabulary tests. You guys and gals averaged 98% to their 90. The proof is in black and white. You should be easily be reading 1.08 books to every one of theirs. And I know you can do it, if you believe. Do you believe? We’d all yell yes. I can’t hear you. We’d yell even louder. Well then, get out there and READ!”
At that point we’d run out of the building, rush home, sit in the big chair and tear through those books. About an hour later we’d stop and wonder how we fell for the spiel all over again. I mean there were two obvious errors in her speech. First was the fact that we were never returning to room 4. This was summer. Assuming we all passed, we were headed to the next grade in the fall. Whoever our new teacher was, she was not going to be interested in all the books we read below grade level. That ship had sailed. She was going to make us read a whole new list of books. They were all going to be a lot harder to boot.
Second was the simple truth that no one could read more than Gail Sampson. The girl was a freak of nature. She read the complete Oxford English Dictionary, that’s the really big one, at four. Then completed the combined works all nineteenth, and twentieth century masters at seven, just because she was bored one afternoon. Nowadays authors just send copies of their manuscripts to Gail as well as the publishers. It saves a lot of time and hassle. But I digress.
Now don’t think I’m against children reading. I’m not. I donate to my community literacy program every year, and always vote for the local library tax increases. I just think the summer reading thing has gotten out of hand. My local library offers prizes to the kids for every five books they read. And you may ask what the prize is? It’s a brand-new book. Where’s the incentive in that? Ice cream would be a much more appropriate gift. Think about this from your child’s perspective. Which would you like better? “Hey Johnny, if you read these books you get a treat.” Or, “c’mon Bobby, only three more books and you’ll get another book.” Trust me Bobby’s learning at a very early age; If you do the work, you get more work. Life is getting to be more and more like a Dilbert cartoon every day.
Then there’s the unseen consequence to Johnny’s siblings. “If he reads, he gets Ice cream. Mom, wants to be fair, so if he gets a treat, we all do. Keep reading Johnny. We’re behind you 100%.” Really puts the pressure on, doesn’t it?
Come to think of it, I just finished a book. It had one-thousand pages. Now, grade-school books usually have less than two-hundred. Using this logic, I’ve read the equivalent of five books. I’m going to go get some ice cream.
Hey, if you believe in something, you have to practice what you preach. Yum, Yum!