September 06, 2007

Teenagers: Part Twelve

Shaggy Hair Boy, hard at work

The summer homework that Shaggy Hair Boy and Blonde Niece were given was not an unreasonable amount. Read the five assigned books, answer some questions, summarize and analyze the text, write a few essays. They've had the assignments since June, and we purchased the books sometime in July. They've had ALL SUMMER.

The two sixteen-year-olds read all kinds of other books during the summer. On camping vacations and car trips or during sweltering hot days at home, they are both the type to find a comfy spot and settle down with a book. But neither one touched their summer homework until Labor Day Weekend. It didn't make sense to me. Blonde Niece could read Hunter S. Thompson on ridiculously hot day, but not Nathaniel Hawthorne? They could read the newest Harry Potter book the weekend it came out, but the official summer books went untouched.

The assignments that seem reasonable when you've got two months to do them become a real challenge when you've only got a few days. Last weekend up at camp, the two cousins stayed up all night in the little cabin with the screen windows where we usually play cards, shivering while they read and took notes and complained to each other. When I offered Blonde Niece a blanket to wrap around her shoulders, she said, "The cold is the only thing keeping me awake."

I tried to help out at lunch time by introducing a discussion of The Scarlet Letter. Of course, the only thing I really remembered is that I absolutely hated the book when I read it in high school, but loved it when I read it in graduate school. I think sixteen is really too young to fully understand the emotional and psychological intensity of the book. Not surprising, the two teenagers did not find my thoughts at all helpful. My mother, who read the book more recently, was much more useful in her analysis of the characters.

By the end of the weekend, Shaggy Hair Boy was stumbling about in a sleep-deprived haze, his long, curly hair flowing over his shoulders and into his eyes. I had no sympathy for him. "You've had all summer to do this work," I said to him. "Why did you save it until now?"

He said nothing, just looked up blearily and then bent over his notebook again. I looked at Blonde Niece. "You love to read. Why didn't you just read these books sooner?"

She shook back her hair, "I don't like to be told what to read."

In the sun

Blonde Niece using her AP History book as a pillow.


Artist Friend said...

Well, I'm the same way about grading papers. I've got about eight to go that I should have had finished last night, and that I told the students would be ready by this afternoon. It's natural to put off things you have to do if you can!

jo(e) said...

Artist Friend: You're grading papers? Oh, send me an email. I love the long, rambling emails I get when you're procrastinating.

Yankee T said...

"I don't like being told what to read." ... or wear, or think, or listen to, or watch, or eat...

I love teenagers. But I have no sympathy.

jo(e) said...

Yankee: I knew you'd read the post and understand immediately what I was talking about!

I do love the fierce independence of teenagers. It's such a great energy as they turn into adults.

Rev Dr Mom said...

It's reassuring to hear that your kids do this too. This is exactly how the Kid approaches summer homework.

I procrastinate, too, and I do my best work under that kind of pressure. But the difference is I know my limits and he doesn't.

So I have no sympathy either.

jo(e) said...

rev dr mom: Well, I think that this kind of experience is how teenagers learn their limits. I know that's what worked for me.

I did the whole sleep deprivation thing during high school and college until it finally occurred to me that trying to work when I was desperately tired was not very efficient.

kathy said...

Shaggy Hair Boy does have gorgeous hair!

MJ said...

Wow. This is the first time I've ever heard of summer homework. It seems wrong somehow. But, of course, I put off reading my book club book to the very last second and then realize how long it really takes me to read a book.

So, one vote for the teenagers from someone who last saw adolesence in the early 1980s and has 7 more years before she has to contend with it again. (You can remind me of this vote then.)

jane dark said...

I'd second that view of TSL not resonating for high schoolers. And I still don't like to be told what to read, unless I can see that the person telling me is excited about it.

liz said...

Summer homework??? What is UP with THAT?

I went to Specialized High School Named After A Peglegged Dutchman and we NEVER had summer homework.

julieunplugged said...

Summer homework is standard now for most schools. It's really cruel, if you ask me. When do kids ever get to find out what they love or why they love it?

We homeschool. My tenth grade son just entered high school for the first time. Over the summer, for fun, he read HP7 (of course) and the unabridged Les Mis. He never thought about whether or not he "had" to read either. He read them because he was interested.

Upon entering the school, he looked forward to book discussions in English. He asked his friend what they read in tenth grade last year (honors). She couldn't remember a single title.


And like you - I never liked the Great Gatsby until I read it three years ago as an adult. Wow. My second favorite book ever now. But in high schools, ruined for me for 25 years.

MonkeyPants said...

I'm another one who loves reading and (still) hates being told what to read.

In high school, I'd generally power through novels so I could go and read what I wanted.

The notable exception was 1984. I started reading on a bus coming home from my part-time job. By the time I was home, I was so sucked in I didn't want to meet anyone's eyes, because I was so convinced Big Brother was watching me!

Busymomma66 said...

I hate to admit it, but I do the same thing with book group. I start the book only 1-2 weeks before. I've told the group I do this because then the book "will be fresh" in my mind, but I wonder if it's a form of adolescent rebellion that I never did--lol.

I also do it at work, I won't start a project until it's close to the due date. But I really believe that that is due to the specs changing almost all the time at the last minute. But maybe not??? LOL

nimiecat said...

I was just like that! And, in a way, I still don't like to be "told" what to do at 40. It's going to be so much fun when my daughters are the same way. ;)

KathyR said...

My 14-year-old brand new high schooler tried to read the last 400 pages of the summer reading in about a week. He is not one who loves to read, so this was pretty much impossible.

I asked the same procrastination questions you did and got pretty much the same non-answer. Only with more snark. Yes, it is possible to be silent with snark.

Picky Mick said...

I was rather oblivious to the world. If I hadn't been told what to read I don't think I'd have picked up a book. (Thank you, girl who told me to read Of Mice and Men.)

kathy a. said...

at least they had each other to prod themselves into doing it.

my 18 year old daughter had a small crisis the other night. she is about to start college, and had not checked her new college email address in, like, a really really long time. therefore, she missed the band email about sending measurements by some deadline that has passed, so she could be fitted for a band uniform.

have i mentioned checking that email? yes. has she appreciated the advice? no. she's working it out herself: a great learning experience!

we are no longer speaking of the music she is supposed to have memorized by a week from sunday. i hope my husband [mr. "why don't you tell her to practice?"] can drive several hundred miles with saxophone practice going on in the back seat.

jennifer said...

This reminds me of a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, perhaps you know the one. Calvin and Hobbes find a snake, and while watching it excitedly, realize they don't really know that much about snakes. So Hobbes says, maybe your mom will get us a book from the library. And Calvin gets really excited until he begins to think that reading during summer might be too much like school. And Hobbes says, it doesn't count if you're doing it for fun. And the next panel shows them reading a book with delighted expressions.

I know I'm not supposed to be sympathetic, but I kind of get it.

Rev Dr Mom said...

The Kid has had summer homework every year since he finished 5th grade. And he has homework every school break. I think it is cruel. What's a break for if you have to do homework.

That said...the Kid has more trouble learning his limits this way that some. The consequence of not being done or not doing well have never been very important to him. So his procrastination seems more problematic to me than my daughers' did.

zhoen said...

Required reading always feels like hard salesmanship, and that I'm being sold poor value. I still resent the books I had to read. Much better to assign summer reading with a door open to creativity, mere guidelines.

Kelly said...

I actually have a lot of sympathy for these teens and their summer reading. How much do you want to bet that the books will never be discussed once they return to school? I read Moby Dick for summer reading and it was never even brought up in class. Zhoen has the right idea--mere guidelines are all they need.

Also, The Scarlett Letter is not for high schoolers. I know so many people who've never returned to it in adulthood because of high school trauma. That's too bad, because it's a wonderful novel in and of itself and one that's strangely relevant today.

elswhere said...

Count me among the non-fans of summer homework. This is the first I've ever heard of such a thing, besides just plain required reading (and I'm not crazy about that, unless there's a choice of books-- who *does* like being told what to read?).

So yeah, I'm sympathizing with the teenagers. Not always, but in this case, yes.

YourFireAnt said...

Jo(e), this cracked me up. You're channelling my mother. ;-)


p.s. I SO identify with BN, her not wanting to be told what to read.