Summer reading lists for high-school students can be an illuminating lens on local tastes — and sometimes political proclivities. Education Lab offers a sampling from around the country.
In these high-tension times, even a high-school reading list can be cause for hand-wringing over politics.
Last week, an AP Government teacher in Spanish Fort, Alabama, was rebuked after asking students to choose their summer reading from selections that included “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions” by Michael Savage, the conservative political commentator; and “Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and their Assault on America” by Ann Coulter.
Authors Ron Paul, Mark Levin, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Sowell and Chuck Colson rounded out the list of 30 books that went viral on social media.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum, some of America’s most elite private schools are requiring students to read the anti-war novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; Anthony Burgess’ dystopian fantasy “A Clockwork Orange” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ meditation on race “Between the World and Me.”
In Seattle, many summer reading lists are less overtly political. But readers may notice a few trends.
Librarians at West Seattle High School collaborated with those at Madison and McClure middle schools to point incoming ninth-graders toward a list of 40 books, including Trevor Noah’s best-selling memoir “Born a Crime” and “Loving vs. Virginia,” a work of historical fiction, written in verse, about laws forbidding interracial marriage.
None of the books is required. But any student who reads one can be entered in a monthly prize-drawing when school starts.
Clearly, young-adult fiction has come a long way from “The Outsiders,” which seemed pretty searing in its day (the late 1960s).
At Ballard High School, ninth-graders might plunge into “The House of the Scorpion,” which addresses immigration and the drug trade; or “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, a novel about rape, depression and redemption through truth-telling.
Education Lab, also curious about summer reading at the region’s high-powered private schools, discovered that at Lakeside no such list has existed for 20 years. That trend is provoking debate as teachers become concerned about students who are ever less inclined to read on their own.
But Bob Lapsley, head of Lakeside’s English Department, said in an email: “In the end, we decided not to assign reading because we were concerned about issues of equity — ease of access to the books/library — and not wanting to assume kids had loads of free time.”
Back at Spanish Fort in Alabama, the right-leaning list viewed as an ideological overreach had an unintended consequence that many students will cheer: Assignment canceled.