The other day a friend of mine acknowledged in a closed Facebook group for the middle school that she had not required her child to read this summer, and she described herself as an “awful mom,” and she wanted to know what the consequence was for this failure to force her kid to read over vacation.
Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about required summer reading, summer reading logs, math packets, and any other required work assigned over vacation.
If you don’t know me, I’ll summarize my thoughts for you.
Any required work assigned by the school is bullshit.
I was an elementary school teacher before I became a parent.
Last year we had six kids in the public school system at every level. We had one in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, and twelfth grade.
So I’ve been on both sides of the coin.
I believe the public school system is important and invaluable.
But I don’t necessarily believe it’s important for the reasons many other people do.
I believe you learn quite a few things in school. I believe you get an education.
But I don’t believe the facts you are required to memorize or the books you are forced to read really teach you all that much.
In fact, I don’t think they teach you much of anything.
When I first started out teaching, I was an aide in a 6th grade class. And the lead teacher who was an experienced veteran and a great teacher always used to say “All the math you need in order to navigate life is sixth grade math.”
She was right.
I took algebra and trigonometry and functions and calculus in high school.
And I have never once used any of it.
Actually, that’s not true. I used it once. Well, I tried to. I tried to use it when Number 2 asked me for help on his calculus homework last year. To be honest, I looked at it, attempted to figure it out, and then I told him I had no idea how to find the answer and he’d have to either You Tube it or ask his teacher the next day.
I’m pretty sure I memorized the periodic table in chemistry.
I’ve definitely never use that.
I’m certain I had to memorize lots of historical dates for social studies. But I couldn’t tell you today what 95% of them are right now.
I can’t recall much of anything I memorized between the years of 1982 and 1987.
But I definitely learned.
I learned that there are good people and bad people.
I learned that life is not fair. I learned that some teachers play favorites.
I learned that there are amazing teachers and there are some pretty shitty ones.
I learned about cliques and bullying.
I learned that sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t want to do.
I learned that sometimes, going through the motions and doing the bare minimum is enough.
I learned that people will take advantage of you when you let them.
I learned that being part of a team is awesome.
I learned who were my true friends were and weren’t.
I learned that some people care if you pay attention to detail, and some don’t.
I learned that being rich and popular has its advantages, but it also has its disadvantages.
I learned to budget my time, and I learned to prioritize.
I learned what things came naturally to me and what things would always be a struggle.
And I learned what mattered to me and what didn’t.
I had some teachers in those thirteen years who gave me opportunities to do things I loved. But not many.
Because the pigeon holing and the test taking was beginning back then.
So I got an education.
In hindsight, I wish I had learned more about what I was really passionate about. What I really loved. What I’d enjoy doing once I was done with school.
And I went to one of the top high schools in Connecticut (Weston High School).
Back then, I had many more opportunities than Number 1 and 2 have had in public school.
Our kids have no opportunity to play a string instrument in our school district. They won’t have the opportunities for shop and home ec and graphic design and photography and the number of foreign languages that I had available to me.
All of those are being stripped away because they aren’t important on a test that values memorized and regurgitated information.
So when I send my kids to school, sure, I want them to learn the basics. I want them to learn how to do sixth grade math. The math they will need to survive the real world. I want them to learn how to read and write and organize their thoughts and write coherent sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a punctuation mark.
In addition to that education, I know my kids will be exposed to and learn how to deal with different personalities.
They will learn how to communicate with other people. They will learn how to work with other people. They will learn that when working on a group project, some people will find a way to avoid doing any work at all, and other people will take the reins and do the whole thing.
They will learn that some teachers will be totally cool, and other will be assholes. Some teachers will push and inspire them, and some are just putting in their time.
I want them to learn how to deal with these teachers on their own.
Just like in the real world when you are grown up.
Because it won’t be long before they have bosses like that.
But after that, I want them to discover what they love, what they are good at, what they are passionate about, and what they enjoy doing.
And then I want to help them find ways to turn all those things into a career that they will find to be fulfilling and rewarding.
And I think that starts now.
I know all this required summer work originated from the belief that there is a “summer slide.”
But the summer slide doesn’t measure actual learning.
As this article so amazingly puts it,
“No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”
“Summer learning loss is the symptom of a schooling model that equates testing with learning. The children who purportedly experience “summer slide” are the messengers. We should listen to them. They tell us, loudly and clearly, that our industrial framework of test-driven mass schooling doesn’t create learners. It creates mimics.” \
One hundred million bazillion percent YES.
From personal experience, I did not learn a thing about being a teacher from the courses I took in college. I learned everything when I was a student teacher. I learned what works, what doesn’t work, I learned how to meet the needs of the kids and how to adapt and improvise, how to organize my classroom and how to be efficient by actually being in the classroom.
I’ve learned just about everything I know about being a swim coach by being on the pool deck with the kids. Not because I took a couple courses, passed a test, and got certified.
I sure as hell did not learn anything about being a parent by taking a class.
So I did not this year, nor will I ever, force my kids to sit down and do any required work assigned by the school over the summer.
I encouraged my kids to do the things they are passionate about and the things they enjoy.
And I think that makes me quite the opposite of an awful mom.
Of course I value and encourage reading.
For the first time ever, I have taken my kids to the library on a regular basis this summer.
I read aloud nightly to all the kids. That’s a habit that we started years ago, and it’s one of my most enjoyable activities to do with the kids and one I’ll continue as long as they still love it.
If that’s the only reading the kids do, that’s fine by me.
I don’t think you can force a kid to love reading. But I sure as hell think you can turn them off to it by forcing them to read.
All the kids may not read independently for enjoyment every day. Or any day.
But they all know how to navigate the library, they all know how to look for books, they all know how to check their own books out on their own cards, and they all know how to ask for help from one of the employees there.
I believe that is as valuable as reading regularly. That is a real life skill.
My kids didn’t sit in front a computer and practice math facts on IXL every day.
But they did learn how to pay for their own food at a restaurant and the grocery store.
A nd they traveled to Virginia for a swim meet. They learned how to sit in a car and a bus and either be bored or occupy themselves. They learned how to navigate an unfamiliar place on their own. They learned how to make friends with people they didn’t know and advocate for themselves.
Number 4 did read a ton this summer. She is a voracious reader. She never leaves the house without a book. She reads everywhere she goes. She literally panics when she nears the end of a book and doesn’t have another one lined up to read. So I have made sure she has books available to her at all times, and I’ve made special trips to the library with her. Reading is a passion of hers, and I will always encourage it.
Number 3, on the other hand, loves sports. He wants to play ping pong and badminton and go swimming and play basketball and baseball and frisbee and anything else available to him all the time. He is always looking for and asking someone to do any sport with him.
So I will always encourage this. But I sure as hell won’t tell him he can’t do that until he reads a book. Because that makes reading a punishment. And I’m not going to foster any love of reading by doing that.
And my friend who described herself as an awful mom because she didn’t force her kid to read this summer?
She also traveled to Europe with her son where he was exposed to other cultures and people and where he received an education and had experiences he would never get no matter how many books he read.
And I’d take that over being able to say my kid read at least one fiction book and one non fiction book over the course of a whole summer any day.