The night before school started, I reconnected with friends that I hadn’t seen in months. We were all together at the senior dinner, eating cheesesteaks, making jokes, and, well, stressing.
“Have you started Oryx and Crake?” every English IV* student seemed to ask each other, referencing the Margaret Atwood novel assigned as summer reading.
“No, but I’m getting through the other one,” everyone seemed to reply. Then, letting reality sink in: “I’ve got a long night ahead of me.”
We stressed, we ate, we went home and read. Then we woke up in a stupor and hoped we didn’t have a quiz on the first day of school.
Teachers, I understand if you attribute this late-summer stress to students mismanaging their time. To be fair, most students have a love/hate relationship with procrastination. We are bombarded by mounting workloads at school, on the sports field, and in extracurriculars, so we look to decompress. We tell ourselves that our breaks from doing homework will be quick. They almost never are.
However, I think procrastination isn’t the reason why many students rush to finish summer reading. The problem is the summer reading itself.
Summer is a time to take a break from school and focus on just about anything else. Some kids play video games and watch TV all summer. Other kids get jobs and internships, take summer classes, or immerse themselves in a new culture. The variety of ways Haverford students have spent their time over the summer is stunning.
Class discussions fueled by Sparknotes are boring and a waste of tuition. And what can we do to avoid these discussions? Give harsher penalties to students who don’t do work over break? I hope not.
I learned more about myself this summer than I thought possible. I spent time away from thinking about school and started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, a perspective that I didn’t pay much attention to from September to May. I daydreamed, exercised, and consumed art. I traveled, got an internship, and met new people.
Most college courses don’t assign summer reading (although colleges will frequently assign freshmen a novel before orientation). Colleges know their students lead busy lives during the summer. So they simply don’t assign material over break. Yet high schoolers, who are less emotionally and academically mature than college students, are tasked with balancing many of the responsibilities that college students have over summers, plus school work to do during break time. This system is especially virulent for rising Sixth Formers, who may be tasked with working a summer job, scrambling to craft some version of themselves in a college application, while also having to do more summer work than ever before.
I propose limiting summer work in all classes (other than independent research classes where students choose to read over the summer for their research) to small assignments that can be done in the two weeks before school, when most kids have more free time and are preparing for the school year.
As Alexander Nazaryan, a ninth-grade teacher in Brooklyn, wrote in The Atlantic Magazine’s The Wire in 2013 in an article titled “Trust Me, Assigning Summer Reading Is Totally Pointless,” “If a young person loves reading, she deserves two months [of summer] to read whatever strikes her fancy, free of the strictures of the classroom.”
Class discussions fueled by Sparknotes are boring and a waste of tuition. And what can we do to avoid these discussions? Give harsher penalties to students who don’t do work over break? I hope not. I propose limiting summer work in all classes (other than independent research classes where students choose to read over the summer for their research) to small assignments that can be done in the two weeks before school, when most kids have more free time and are preparing for the school year. Student stress levels heading into the school year would decrease and the academic quality of classes would increase.