A Grade 6 class is expected to read a book of their choice per week at home independently and submit a book report for each. They should read a range of genres. Multiple books from the same series are not acceptable. Non-fiction books are not acceptable. The aim of this home reading program can only be inferred. Presumably it is to encourage students to read regularly, to enjoy reading, to broaden their exposure to authors, styles and genres. Book reports are to likely to gauge comprehension and provide proof that the book has actually been read.
A particular student has chosen “The DaVinci Code” as his current novel. He is not a voracious reader, but is a strong enough reader that he enjoys the book and the challenge it presents. But the book is many times longer and more complex than the books his classmates are typically reading. He does not want to choose lightweight books instead or in addition to this one. He would like to continue challenging himself with The DaVinci Code over the longer term, and instead of weekly book reports, submit weekly summaries of chapters he has read. He says that if he’s forced to abandon DC and pick up shorter, less challenging books that he’s not currently interested in, he simply won’t do the reading and reports. He’s happy with DC and the challenge it’s giving him, and wants a compromise.
Many parents on the message board where this issue was being discussed seem to feel that the rules given by the teacher are hard and fast, and it would be disrespectful and defiant to even ask for a compromise. “You can’t tell your boss that you don’t like the work so you won’t do it,” they say. “Children shouldn’t grow up believing that the rules don’t have to apply to them.” They also believe that this is not a place for a parent to support and facilitate the request for a compromise. “Any kid old enough to understand The DaVinci Code is old enough to deal with this himself.” Or “I would tell my kid to buck up and get with the program. The school should not have to bend their rules because some kid thinks he has a better idea.” Other parents suggest “School is a kid’s job. He has to do the work.”
I am left shaking my head in bewilderment. School cannot be likened to a job. When you work for an employer, the work you do is for your employer’s benefit. In exchange you are given a salary which compensates you for doing work for your employer’s benefit. It’s an economy. And you have choice. If you find the work is making you miserable, you can seek a new job. You’re presumably an adult and have control over your life and your choices, as well as the maturity and experience to make tough decisions.
When you work at school, the work is for your benefit — to educate you. No money changes hands because the benefit (supposedly!) accrues to you. And most kids have zero choice. If school is making them miserable they can’t quit and find another way to learn. They’re also young, inexperienced and immature.
So the situations are different in fundamental ways. There are, in my opinion, a number of very good reasons why the school should be the party that is flexible and accommodating in situations like this.
I also bristle at the suggestion that reading level can be equated with social-emotional maturity. Fiona, for example, has quite a lot of social-emotional maturity for her age. She is gracious, respectful and assertive. But I am quite sure that now that she is (brag!) reading at a Grade 4 level, her social-emotional maturity still does not keep up with her reading level. No matter how you slice it she is not a 9-year-old. When I think back to Erin the asynchronicity was extremely stark. She had been reading her way through books at the Harry Potter level and beyond for a full four years before she had the confidence and maturity to open her mouth and speak to an adult she didn’t know intimately.
For the record, in the scenario I describe the teacher has not yet been approached. It is certainly possible that the teacher will be receptive to the compromise the boy is suggesting — I hope that’s the case. What dumbfounded me was the resounding consensus among most parents contributing to the discussion that the child’s role is to toe the line, even when the line makes him miserable and he has a compromise to suggest which it seems is likely in keeping with the spirit, if not the letter, of the rule.
It seems that most parents have bought the premise that children serve the curriculum rather than the other way around. I think they’ve got it totally backwards.
Edited to add: A follow-up post from the mom makes it clear that the teacher has been wonderfully accommodating. She would love the boy to read The DaVinci Code and report based on that. The requirement that he read from a variety of genres is one made with a year-long view, not week by week. I’m not surprised that the teacher has been flexible; I’ve seen lots of great examples of flexibility in the school system. What surprises me still is the response of so many parents to the original dilemma as presented.