However, that’s not the end of the story. I also argue it’s one of my favorites because my teacher introduced me to Pip and Miss Havisham and Estella in her unique and talented way once we started school that year. My only job that summer was to get through the texts. Upon our return to class, my teacher spent the first weeks of school helping us unpack them. These two texts are complex, intricate, long and written in the 1800’s -- not one of these qualities conducive to generating a teen’s interest over summer. Nevertheless, I completed them and felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished.
What I wasn’t expected to do upon my return to class in September was take a comprehension exam, a vocabulary test, and a character quiz that either set me up for success or failure within the first days of school. While reading the novels over the summer, I wasn’t stressed to the point of needing expensive private tutors, study groups, Cliffs Notes, Sparknotes, and Wikipedia (if it’d existed) just to be “prepared” to be tested on day 1 of the new school year -- especially if I’d finished my work at the beginning of summer and felt like I needed to re-read everything.
I’m sure my teachers must have been aware of the “summer loss” we hear so much about today. They knew a summer reading assignment was a good idea to keep us engaged. They must also have been aware of the importance of their role in teaching. Yes, my teacher challenged me with complex texts, but knew that I was going to need her for strategies to maneuver the subtleties of the themes, to glean context from character’s names, to approach 19th century language, to understand the power of the cliff hanger, audience, figurative language, satire, and tone, and to be able to synthesize the symbols from both novels to make an argument about classic, canonical literature. These are sophisticated texts with sophisticated needs that I, as a fifteen year old, couldn’t cognitively grasp without her support.
I am not opposed to summer homework, but I’d like to see it approached in a way that celebrates teaching and teachers while giving kids opportunities to both enjoy their summer and challenge their mind. Using summer homework to kick start the curriculum workload isn’t a bad idea, but expecting kids to be able to unpack a challenging text without assistant for the purpose of a summative assessment is unfair and erroneous.
I will argue any day that testing isn’t the point of education; rather, it’s the learning and love of the process that allows success. So why do we continue to treat education as punitive process? Why do we expect students to learn material on their own and then punish them when they struggle? How does this “more,” over a time during which our kids are supposedly on break, equate to “rigor”?
As parents, it’s time we ask our school leadership teams, the LAUSD district curriculum division, and our school board to step in and re-evaluate the purpose of summer homework.
And because we are only in the first half of the school year -- there is still time for us all to have discussions and, ideally, influence change.