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JENKINS: Summer assignments keep students under schools' thumb

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

Heaven protect us from crusading, do-gooder education types who believe they know more than parents and are hell-bent on controlling every moment of our kids' lives.

Sadly, that attitude is pervasive among "professional educators." One of the ways it manifests itself is in the form of summer reading programs that have somehow, just in the last few years, morphed into summer reading assignments.

Sure, a summer reading list is a great idea. By all means, suggest some books kids might like. Put those suggestions on a website. Alert the local libraries and bookstores. Nothing wrong with that. It might persuade a few more kids to read, especially if their parents encourage them, too.

For my four kids, reading lists are superfluous. They've always devoured books during the summer, the only time of year not dominated by whirlwind activities and excessive homework. My wife and I know a lot more about what they might enjoy reading, and what might be beneficial to them, than a bunch of faceless edu-crats. Heck, the kids themselves know better than the edu-crats.

Even so, I have no problem with a list of suggestions, which just might -- who knows? -- include something worthwhile. It's when reading (along with the inevitable essay) becomes an actual assignment -- one that counts against students who don't do it -- that I start to question the wisdom, not to mention the motives.

Whose idea was it, I wonder, to give kids graded school assignments WHEN THEY'RE NOT EVEN IN SCHOOL? And why?

It's true that summer assignments are mostly reserved for Advanced Placement students, the argument being that AP courses potentially count for college credit and should therefore be more "rigorous." In education-ese, "rigorous" generally translates as "involving mind-numbing busywork."

As I've written elsewhere, AP classes as a rule are nothing like college classes. If anything, the introduction of graded assignments while students are officially on break makes them even less college-like.

I attended college for eight years, including graduate school, taking everything from introductory courses to doctoral seminars. Not once in all those years did any of my professors ever give us graded assignments during the breaks between semesters.

I've also taught at the college level for 28 years. Never have I given my students a graded assignment when school was not even in session. Frankly, had I tried, I probably would have disappeared mysteriously one day.

The bottom line is that summer assignments are not really about rigor. They're about control. They're a way for the education establishment to keep our kids under its collective thumb even when they're not officially in school.

Because the truth is, professional educators don't trust parents -- and with good reason. If it weren't for them, our kids might spend the summer doing something frivolous or subversive, such as playing ball, going to church camp, or reading books not on the approved list.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com or visit familymanthebook.com.