School's Out! Summer Reading begins.

School's out today in Montgomery Country, Md., where my wife teaches high school English. Like millions of kids around the country, her students need to start thinking about summer reading, but this year things are a little different.

Parents in our gargantuan district (140,000 students!) have successfully argued that because their children are entitled to a "free public education," they can't be required to pay extra fees for school activities (no more science lab fee). And that also means no more requiring students to buy particular titles over the summer. (Goodbye dreary "Mayor of Casterbridge.") If the English department wants all sophomores to read "The Grapes of Wrath" this summer, then the English department has to buy every student a copy -- an expense that would decimate the department's annual budget.

So, this year the new MoCo guidelines state: "Schools must provide students summer reading lists that are broad enough to allow students to find a suitable book at a public library. Such lists may include a range of recommended genres, authors, eras, and topics."

About time, I say. Regardless of the legal justification, this change makes sense. Students need a break from heavy, required reading. They'll benefit from the real-life experience of having to choose books -- ideally with the help of a good librarian -- that match their particular interests. Let them read what excites them. Let them return to school with something to share.

-- Ron Charles

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By Ron Charles |  June 17, 2009; 5:12 AM ET Ron Charles
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The move gets the kids to the library, never a bad thing, and encourages independent reading.

Posted by: cebeling | June 17, 2009 8:32 AM

Amen, Ron! I still recall the summer I had “Crime and Punishment” on my high school reading list. At fifteen, I had absolutely no interest in intrinsic duality and symbolic nihilism. I wanted to go tubing with my friends. I got the book on tape, fell asleep through half then wondered how anyone could find such a 'confusing story' of merit. Re-reading it years later, I saw what a disservice I did to Dostoevsky. Just goes to prove: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Thank God some school systems have come to their senses!

Posted by: Sarah_McCoy | June 17, 2009 2:49 PM

I remember in the summer of 1994 when a high school in MCPS assigned one title for its entire senior class. However, they hadn't called us and there were only 4 copies of it in the county. Thank heaven we have moved away from that! I love working with all ages of school kids when they come into the library during the summer. Send them in! We'll be looking forward to seeing them.

Posted by: stonesis | June 19, 2009 2:45 PM

Is there a reference for the argument? I would like to do more research on that.

The way that I have always heard districts doing it, if there is a cost issue, they will pay the fee/costs for you.

My sister-in-law got a choice for her summer reading: she could get books from the school or buy her own. But the school recommended buying them because students like to write in the books.

Posted by: justin_m | June 19, 2009 4:04 PM

To clarify, the reference that I am looking for is some kind of case name or citation, if it went to court.

Posted by: justin_m | June 19, 2009 4:04 PM

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