Not so dedicated to the community read

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Not so dedicated to the community read

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The community read is essentially the unloved stepchild of summer reading.  No one enjoys having it around and it’s probably going to get roughly shoved into a dark corner when it’s forgotten. However, in the community read’s description on Menlo’s website, Menlo says that it “hopes [that the community read] will inspire you to reflect on how fear, risk and hope factor into your own life experience.” The administration essentially wants us to learn valuable emotional lessons from a piece of summer reading, which initially sounds completely reasonable. But if we also remember that Menlo students are dubious summer readers (anyone who wants to suggest otherwise can look at any summer reading quiz score), it would seem very naïve for Menlo to assume that we could absorb worthwhile emotional knowledge from the very same medium.

I don’t want to say that no one reads the community read because that’s not completely true. However, we were all extremely surprised when Mrs. Lapolla told us the book wasn’t actually about Darfur. By far the largest problem with the community read is the widespread view that it’s a waste of time. It simply isn’t an attractive thought to spend summer time reading a book that you feel won’t have an impact on your academics. Any summer reading text that doesn’t have an academic Armageddon of a quiz attached typically doesn’t get read.  To compound the problem, the follow-up discussion and assembly on the community read are easily survived by lying about general literary topics. Without meaingful followup the community read becomes even more laughable. The people who do feel guilty enough to actually open the pages usually don’t get far either, as the community reads haven’t historically been the most riveting of literary texts. Needless to say, it’s hard to argue that something is a valuable instrument of learning when none of the students have actually used it or feel like they should.

Even if everyone muscled their way through the community read, it’s debatable that the emotional knowledge gained will be worthwhile. Emotional maturity and understanding (two things that I wouldn’t know much about) are developed over time. Following up the reading with a nap-inducing assembly and merely a single advocacy block does very little to actually cement the ideas in anyone’s head. If the objective of the community read was to barely inspire a greater level of emotional insight for roughly an hour of time, it does its job admirably. However, I don’t think that’s what Menlo had in mind when they implemented it. It simply seems that reading an entire collection of stories for mediocre amounts of inspiration is a waste of everyone’s time.

While the lessons contained within the text itself are valuable – and God knows the average teenage Menlo student could use the emotional wisdom that is present in the words of the community read – the fact remains that skimming a series of short stories is not an effective way to learn anything valuable, much less an intellectually intensive conversation on hope, fear and risk. Until its purpose is revised or Menlo students suddenly become insatiable readers the community read will remain a shadowy afterthought in the minds of many students.