Rejecting Summer Reading: How to Object Politely

It’s that time of year again, the time of year when the summer reading list comes out. You, are a responsible parent so you look at the list. You realize you recognize none of the titles. In an effort to be relevant, your school’s English department has elected to read something that has been published in the last five years, you have been raising children in those last five years and thus have never heard of the title(s) your child is being asked to read. Being a responsible parent, you Google it. You have some concerns. The book has material that you think you may object to, teen sex/drug use/masturbation/violence. You are not sure you want your child reading this book.

What should you do?

Well, as a teacher, let me give some examples of what you should NOT do. (Yes, all of these things have happened to me, or someone I know.)

You should NOT email the teacher explaining to the teacher that you are sure s/he had no idea, but there is questionable material in this book and you are happy to help do the teachers job by rejecting this book. Look, the person who shows up in the classroom day after day to talk to your kid about reading and writing, This person, your child’s teacher, knows about books. I promise. They picked this book for a reason, and they probably picked it from a list of The National Council of Teacher’s of English: best choices for summer reading, or The  American Library Association’s favorite books for teens.

You should NOT email the teacher and tell her that she is a terrible human being who hates children and is sick, sick sick. So you disagree on a number of things. Fine. But this teacher did not go into the teaching profession to corrupt your child. There are far easier things that make a lot more money if the end goal is corrupting children.

You should NOT email the teacher and insinuate that s/he must have picked the book on accident, and that surely the principal/superintendent/board of education would be horrified at this book choice so you are just trying to help the teacher keep her job by pointing out just how terrible it is. The teacher has read the book, and before it made it to your child’s hands it was vetted by the department head, the principal, and perhaps the district wide Language Arts coordinator. If your child was given that book by the school to borrow, the school board bought at least 200 copies of it. They know. You may disagree with the book, and that is your right as a parent. But let’s not insult everyone over said disagreement.

So, what should you do?

You SHOULD make an appointment with the teacher and hear them out. Give them a list of the concerns that you have and ask them how they plan on handling those things. That teacher might have some really good things to say that you want your child to hear.

You SHOULD read enough of the book that you know what is up. The conversation can be better had if everyone knows what they are talking about. If the teacher has assigned it, they have read it.

You SHOULD consider reading the book with your child and having the conversations with your kid as you read the book together. Chances are your kid is already having these conversations with friends. Here is an awesome opportunity to have your say. You can talk about how the author represented the material you object to and why you object to it and how you would like to have it represented. Because this is summer reading, you get first dibs at shaping your kid’s thinking about whatever it is you object to. This may be your perfect opportunity.

If you absolutely cannot allow your child to read this book, you should offer an alternative. Make it as even as possible, a novel for a novel, a memoir for a memoir. As a parent, it is your right to make decisions about your kid reads. I want you to continue to make that decision. I just want you to do it in a way that is kind, and thoughtful.



10 thoughts on “Rejecting Summer Reading: How to Object Politely

  1. Having an advanced reader in my house helped us to have really valid and open conversations about morals, expectations, hard circumstances, and cleared up a lot of teen confusion.

  2. There are, unfortunately, teachers with an agenda. My ninth-grade English teacher wanted kids to see how horrible the world could be, and he assigned works like “:In Cold Blood”. (I should add that I attended a private school run on the English pattern.)

    That book hurt me. It hurt my friends. I’m 53 now, and still remember the feeling of horror that it engendered, and the loss of a faith that never quite returned.

    My parents didn’t care. I wish they had. I wish they had protested with all vigor.

    • I think there are for sure times when a teacher chooses a book with an agenda, or that will damage the kids. I think a parent can and should object when necessary, I just think they should object without insulting.

  3. Love this! Of course the parent should make an appointment and talk to the teacher f2f. And parents should read, read, read themselves.

  4. Or why not come up with your own family’s summer reading list – “Hey, Mattie, let’s make our own list and you can read one of these.” A great way to include the parents’ favs from their youth.

  5. This is a slightly off beat comment but yesterday in Leeds a devoted and popular teacher was murdered in the classroom by a fifteen year old pupil. She was six weeks off retirement. Her name – Ann Maguire. Reading your knowledgeable and respectful post about teachers really touched me.

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