It was June, the school year had just ended, and I was ecstatic. Finals were over, and I was looking forward to the summer, a time to do things I’m actually interested in, get enough sleep, go on adventures, and spend time with friends and family.
Then the email popped into my box: summer assignments to be completed during our supposed “summer break.”
First up, summer reading. I love to read, but all year, I read books assigned to me in school, and summer is the time I get to read whatever I want. But now I had to read books that didn’t interest me, annotate them as I read, and answer questions about them, just like I do during the school year. This didn’t feel like summer reading. It felt like school-year homework. What’s worse, doing reading I had no interest in took time away that I would have spent immersed in books I’d been looking forward to reading during my break. I had a pile of books I saved up for summer, where I imagined being lost in worlds I actually enjoyed. Instead of encouraging my love of reading, summer reading has prevented me from doing this reading, and made the reading I had to do feel like a big annoyance.
Is that what schools are hoping for?
Some may argue that summer reading is assigned because some students wouldn’t otherwise read during these months. Maybe that’s true, but so what? Isn’t it more important that students get to spend their breaks doing things they enjoy, so they have new experiences, discover their passions, and come back to school refreshed instead of exhausted before day one? What if, instead of doing assigned reading with annotations and questions to answer, a student who loves to draw spends her time drawing, a student who loves photography takes pictures at the beach, a musician starts a YouTube channel, a coder connects with other coders, a student into fashion starts a YouTube channel? Or what if a student spends the summer at sleepaway camp or works as a counselor or writes short stories or just hangs out with friends or siblings since there’s so little time to do any of this during the school year? Aren’t these experiences just as valuable as doing homework over the summer?
The email didn’t just have assigned summer reading. We were ALSO expected to read several chapters of a dry history textbook, outline them, and turn in our outlines and answers to questions. So much for “summer break.”
By the time summer ended, I didn’t feel like I had much of a break at all. And I don’t feel enriched by these experiences. I just feel stressed out and resentful and less likely to have positive feelings about school.
Adults talk all the time about our mental health, and sleep, and life balance, and doing things that nourish us, but their words need to be backed up with actions. I think our teachers need to rethink summer homework.
Think about it: How would they feel if we made them come to work or grade papers during their “summer break”? How would that affect their mental health? If they deserve a well-earned summer break, don’t we students deserve that too?