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.

Schools and rules

9 thoughts on “Schools and rules

  • November 12, 2008 at 12:33 am

    I completely agree with your post. It seems the point of education sometimes gets lost. My daughter’s school would be totally open to such a suggestion. I hope this one will be as well.

  • November 12, 2008 at 8:15 am

    I’m also in total agreement. As a 6th grader, I was reading John Grisham. Of course, I could easily wipe out a Grisham book in time to complete the book report – but, I suffered another problem. School didn’t believe I should be reading those books at all. They attempted to limit my choices, but it didn’t work. My mom came down and complained that they should be happy I read anything at all. LOL So, they gave up and I was happy to present a book report, every week, that was from a book of my choosing.

    I have serious problems with schools and how they “teach” reading. In addition to choosing a book for individual reading, in 6th grade, there’s usually also a class-wide reading project. When I was in 6th grade, I remember reading The Incredible Journey and Where the Red Ferns Grow. I took it upon myself to check out the books from the library and finished them both within days. I reported to the teacher that I could take the final test and got in trouble for reading ahead of the class?! It’s insane. Not only that, but I’ve had books “taken up” because individual reading isn’t what I was supposed to be doing while the rest of the class struggled through things I already finished. It was stupid. I hate rules for reading. A kid should choose their books, their pace, their interests, and grownups shouldn’t be such dictators.

  • November 12, 2008 at 8:27 am

    often other parents’ reactions to specific circumstances floor me . . . in this case I have been floored and reminded yet again that we homeschoolers march to a very different beat than most. Of course the boy should read DC, it’s a no brainer to me, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why other adults can’t see that.

  • November 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    My older daughter (11) is a voracious reader having read somewhere in the vicinity of 150 books since April. She has done this of her own choice, chosen the books she likes, tossed aside the ones she didn’t like and has amassed a mountain of knowledge in the doing so. She did try going to a bookclub once, but got discouraged with being told what books to read and having to regurgitate back her thoughts on the books. I shudder to think what would happen to her love of reading in a school setting.

    Glad to be Homeschooling – Lisa

  • November 12, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I also edited my original post to include this, but for those of you who have subscribed to comments, this will reach you.

    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 was the response of so many parents to the original dilemma as presented.

  • November 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I agree with you, Miranda.

    My own book review story is as follows: When I was in grade 8, our teacher foolishly said we needed to review every single book we read. When the teacher bemoaned that no-one seemed to read, she didn’t seem to make the link to her stipulation. I know that one of my friends only admitted to about 1 in 3 books she read.

    I, being obnoxious, and the most voracious reader in the class (and still interested in light-weight books), went for shock tactics. After the 2 week trial period, I handed in 14 four-line reviews. I was given a special dispensation to record all the books I read, and review one in a while, as I chose. That worked marvellously, I read 365 books that year, and apart from a few years at varsity, I have kept a book list ever since.

  • November 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Yes, I agree with you. I’ve seen people use the “job” comparison with school many times and it’s all wrong, in my opinion. I’ve taught my kids that when it comes to their education they are in charge. They may choose to hire people to provide a service to them, and that may or may not include school.

    At the moment, my 13 year old daughter is going to an arts-focused high school because it helps her to further her goals. My 10 year old son is learning at home and he takes classes when they fit his needs.

    Both kids are wonderfully motivated because they are in charge of their educations.


  • November 14, 2008 at 3:00 am

    I find myself feeling ever increasingly saddened and mystified that so many adults are afraid to move outside the box and it is even more saddening that so many parents want their children to learn the same restrictive thinking.
    How are children to ever learn independent thinking if they are taught to restrict themselves without consideration to the rules of whatever box they perceive themselves to live in?
    Here’s to not just breaking out of the box but rather changing our thinking so that the box no longer exists…


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