One Book Does Not Fit All

Hi Lakewood. My name is Ted Nagel and I'm a reader. I say it that way because I'm addicted to reading. And I love it. How I learned to love reading was through my high school summer reading program. Heading into my freshman year, I was required to read five books. I was not overjoyed. Five books?!? Are you nuts? My school's program, if I can remember that far back, had an extensive reading list with many of the classics, multiple genres, and a wide variety of topics. I think that I had to read three from that list and two of my choice. 

I walked into that freshmen English class with my five books written down on a sheet of paper to hand in. Just as some background, this was at a private school with a strong college-prep curriculum. The school had a lower school (5th through 8th grade) and about half the kids in the freshmen class were new and half were from the lower school. I thought that I did pretty well to finish my five books. But as we were passing our lists forward, I noticed that the lower-school kids all had many more than five books on their lists. Some, a lot more. I was blown away! Who could finish more than five books in a summer? 

Long story semi-less long, that was the summer that I found books. From that year forward, I too had more than my five books on my summer reading list. I found my favorite genres in Historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and yes, I even added some of the classics to my repertoire. My vocabulary expanded exponentially. My imagination and desire to learn were put on steroids. I became a life-long learner. 

I was also recently on a long road trip with my family and when it wasn't my turn to drive, I started reading the mandatory summer book for every student in Lakewood High School which this year was "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien. It seemed like a fine book. It taught some pretty important lessons and gave perspective on an important period in US History. But I wasn't excited to read it. It didn't make me want to extend my non-driving time in the car so that I could just get a few more pages in. In short, it didn't motivate me to read. 

I know that there can be many reasons for assigning summer reading. I believe that one reason should be top priority: Summer reading should be about creating a love of reading. This should be priority number one with all other priorities well down the list. No single book will ever do that for all students. Variety is the spice of life (and all that). I'm not sure why Lakewood adopted the single book policy but I firmly suggest that they should re-"address that reasoning. My Lakewood Student has never once loved the mandatory reading book. They are 0 for 2 for my daughter. She didn't hate the books; they just were not something that excited her. They were another homework assignment that she had to complete. As such, they were a slog to get through and they were the only books she read during the summer. 

I'm not saying that if Lakewood changes their policy, all of the students will learn to love books. What I am suggesting is that, if they have more personal choice, the chances are greatly increased for students to find something that they love. If they find something they love, they might want to learn more about it. If they find something that they love, they might want to read the next book in the series. If they find something that they love, they might be waiting with excitement and frustration for the next book from that author. Get rid of the summer homework assignment and let kids find something that they love. 

Ted Nagel moved here with his wife (who grew up here) and family after retiring from the Army. He volunteers in the community primarily with sports but also through the Lakewood Congregational Church.

Ted Nagel

Moved here with my wife (who grew up here) and family after retiring from the Army. Volunteer in the community primarily with sports but also through the Lakewood Congregational Church.

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Volume 14, Issue 16, Posted 7:15 PM, 08.21.2018