In Defense of Summer Reading

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

I got quite a charge out of your column on summer reading [June 7 and 21] and one reader's concern about the assignment being too minimalist. I can't say I disagree with her, but as the author of the motion that put the policy on the books in Fairfax County 11 years ago, I remember how massively controversial the proposal was back in the day.

I made the motion in February or March 1996, noting, "Our kids are growing up watching 'Beavis and Butthead' instead of reading 'Treasure Island' " (a pretty pithy quote that made it into The Washington Post but would have today's generation shaking their heads and wondering who Beavis and Butthead are). The president of the County Council of PTAs instantly criticized the idea as "ineffectual" and a "cosmetic publicity stunt," although he offered no better solution beyond getting kids to read more during the school year. The president-elect of the International Reading Association attacked summer reading in an "Education Week" story because, "Whenever I'm forced to do something, my attitude toward it becomes increasingly negative."

It wasn't until May that the motion finally passed, earning me the declared undying enmity of my three sons. The effect, however, was relatively dramatic: Three weeks into the summer, we found our local library cleaned out of the books on the list. We learned later in the year that the public library system had to reallocate $50,000 to purchase more of the books that were on the list. And a tiny blow for lifetime (yes, this includes summer) learning took place.

Chris Braunlich

Former member,

Fairfax County School Board

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