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People of the Book: 21st Century Summer Reading


Picture taken from science fiction.com posted by Lauren-Rocks

Picture taken from science fiction.com posted by Lauren-Rocks


In doing some research for a companion guide to our school’s summer reading, I was struck with a thought: “We are People of the Book.”  At a biblical worldview school like Trinity, we have one overriding compass.  That compass points at Christ with the dual rudders of the Old and New Testaments guiding us there.  As “People of the Book,” though, we certainly should like to read and should make the love of reading a priority for our students. So I as I began ruminating on what summer reads should look like at a biblical worldview school, I thought of a few questions:

1.  Why not just read the Bible all summer?  Great question, I said to myself.  Really we have more free time and could be in the Word more, but ironically that rarely happens from my experience.  Frustrated by a lack of momentum due to vacations, often group bible studies tend to shut on down in the summer.  I personally participate in Coaches’ Outreach and BSF during the year, but have nothing during the summer unless my church puts something on.  Ideally, our students would get into groups of 4-8 reading and studying a book or two from the bible.  I always thought a good short summer study was something like James’ letter.  Its just 5 chapters and has compelling thoughts for Christians young and old including ethical dilemmas.  For instance, put chapter 2 in front of a few 8th and 9th graders and have them tease this out: Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ” (James 2:2-4 NIV). Certainly as people of the Book we should be using the bible for “pleasure reading,” sustenance, and as a reference book for all other works.

2.  Should we have heavy emphasis on the classics in summer reading?  I’m of two minds here, but mostly I lean toward “yes.”  Some classics have the potential to bore students silly.  On the other hand and probably because of my training as a historian, I do believe in a veritable “canon” to which all students should be exposed.  When I was going through high school and college the movement promoting one canon was very strong, carried along by heavyweights like E.D. Hirsh Jr.  (for background on the canon debate and Hirsh see  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/books/e-d-hirsch-sees-his-education-theories-taking-hold.html, but note Trinity is not bound by the Common Core  mentioned in that article).  All that aside, I think some exposure in the summer to the classics is definitely warranted, but teachers need to be thoughtful about picking something for classics sake.  If it is a true classic, it should resonate with this crop of students.  If it is just something some outside force thinks you should read (the problem with Hirsh’s mindset), then the learning is not likely to be productive. One caveat here: students studying in the AP English course necessarily have to be well read in the canon by definition of the course. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is on our AP list.  Additionally, most of the classics express an understanding of a biblical worldview, at least, if not an adherence to it.   Most have some central theme or tension surrounding the fall of man and then redemption.  Additionally, most classics utilize biblical allusions routinely.  Identifying those can be a great exercise for our students as the battle Moby Dick.

3.  Should summer reading be separated by gender? Golly, I sure wish it could, especially in middle school.  If one of the aims of summer reading is to encourage lifelong readers, then student interest plays a huge role.  I read a book a week, mostly non-fiction now (Yes, my TV is on the fritz and I have not had cable for five years) but I would not be such a big reader if my teachers made me read Nancy Drew (no offense, Nancy).  My fire for reading started around 4th and 5th grade with the copious works of sport novella writer Matt Christopher   (www.mattchristopher.com) and I never looked back.  I do think the best summer reading programs build in choices and those choices can include recommendations by gender for more fervent participation. 4.  Should there be accompanying guides with summer reading?  Wow!  This is a loaded question.  On one hand, I think not.  Really, if we want to inspire creativity and originality, then I think we need to set readers out on their own and see what they come up with on their own.  On the other hand, if there are sensitive points to the novel (again, every great novel has a tension and teenagers like ours need to see relevant tensions for them to care about a work) then an adult should step in with a frame of reference.  This is best done with a a parent read along.  It is a great idea to have the parents of middle and high school students read the same books and discuss over dinner or while sitting on beach chairs down 3oA.  A popular read for seniors at some schools has been Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  It definitely has a tension to it that demands a biblical worldview analysis.  Yet, it also has strong adult situations including alcoholism and sexuality.  Students reading it on their own during the summer are left out without a parachute.  If, however, a parent wanted to do the in the trenches work one really should do before his son goes off to college, then a read together and discussion could be valuable with a book like that. <a href="https://polldaddy.com/p/8021740" target="_blank">Take Our Poll</a>

5.  Is technology changing the way we view summer reading?  Today, I read 5 articles in my field on my cell phone.  There really is not a novel that helps me do what I do as a principal on a daily basis and there are few monographs that can either.  Yet, I can spend 30 minutes on Twitter during an evening when the kids are in bed and craft ideas that further my school’s vision and execution every day.  We need to be thoughtful of this as we develop a summer reading program in the 21st Century.  For me, a novel read in the summer is a release from work and for my brain that races with other reads.  A classic novel or a new fiction best seller allows my mind to unwind.  Preparing our students with a professional end in mind through vehicles like twitter and blogs read on phones may have a place in the summer, yet I hope we never lose the concept of the relaxing, light summer read that forces one’s imagination to run wild. Til next time, may some sweet tea be at arm’s length away, may your beach chair be comfy, the sand soft between your toes, and may there be a veritable page turner in your hands.  Happy Reading!

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