458. Book Reports

Imagine doing something you have just learned to do, and are already beginning to enjoy. But then imagine that as soon as you finish doing it, you’re going to have to do something you are still trying to learn to do – something you can’t yet even imagine enjoying. And that’s what it means to some children to have to do a book report. Many children learn to read much more easily than they learn to write, and many quickly begin to love reading. But for some of them, having to write a book report is a punishment for having read a book, and though they really do like reading, it just isn’t worth such a punishment.
There are reasons teachers assign book reports. The first one I can think of is also the reason I assigned book reports some years – a reason I can tell you in one word – tradition. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not enough of a reason, but schools are institutions, and like many other institutions, they do have traditions – some so firmly rooted that they don’t easily succumb to clear thinking. And there were years I didn’t have the energy to explain why I didn’t want to assign book reports, or the gumption to simply fly in the face of tradition.
Like many other traditions, book reports have accumulated rationales, and have their devotees. I’ll try to describe some of these rationales, but it’s too late to fool you; you already know where I stand. One rationale is that book reports are written evidence that reading has happened. If we don’t have children write book reports, think believers in this rationale, they may say they’ve read books, but there won’t be any proof.
Another line of thinking is that reading, handled effectively, can become a fad, and book reports can serve as a form of advertisement. One child will hear or read a book report done by another child and rush to the library to get the reported book and read it. I think this does indeed happen, but I also think the success rate of this kind of advertising does not indicate that it’s cost effective. For every child who is captivated by hearing or reading book reports, there are many who are repelled by having to create them.
I majored in comparative literature in college, so I’ve probably written more about books than the average person. For me, it was sometimes even pleasant to write about books. But I think I’m an exception; I don’t think most of you have written book reports since the times you had to. And unless you have a job reviewing books, you probably won’t ever have to write them again. Come on, now, doesn’t that sound good?
Let’s let children read when they’re ready. Let’s let them write, too, when they’re ready. Both activities ought to be or become enjoyable. But let’s put an end to the tradition of making them write book reports.

Comments are closed.