E11 Honors summer reading worries misguided

September 10, 2018 — by Jeffrey Ma

Last May, the English Department told students taking English 11 Honors this year that they needed to read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and flag 10 to 15 key passages during the summer.

This change of curriculum prompted a wave of worry and fear. The implementation of summer reading seemed to be a precursor to junior year stress, and students began to consider switching out of Honors because of it. In the end, this anxiety was misguided.

While the difficulty of the Honors course definitely warrants considerations of switching classes, summer reading alone fails to justify such an action.

Miller’s four-act play tops off at no more than 200 pages long. The four hours it takes to read the play and the one to two it takes to annotate is nothing when compared to the 1,500 hours students have for doing everything else they wanted to during the summer. The five- to six-hour investment pales in comparison to the myriad of practice SATs and tutoring classes often taken during the summer before junior year.

Despite his story’s setting in Puritan Salem, Miller’s language is straightforward and modern, with just a few Goodys here and there for a dash of historical accuracy. The plot and characters are no more complicated than the language.  Textually, “The Crucible” is no harder than any book read in English 10.

To further aid student understanding of Miller’s intention and message behind the play, both English 11 Honors teachers, Natasha Ritchie and Amy Keys, provided study guide questions and an accompanying “Overview” article before the summer. These supplemental materials provided useful background information on the play’s basic identity as an allegory of the 1950s Red Scare.

Many versions of the play also include related readings that provide similar information and guidance. Even the bare-bones “about the author” sections furnish sufficient information to piece together allegorical aspects of the play.

However, this is not to say that every book read in English 11 Honors is easy or that the course itself is easy.

The play’s difficulty level, or rather its lack of difficulty, can be attributed to its longstanding status as the the introductory piece of literature for the English 11 Honors course, helping students adjust back into an academic mindset after a summer of doing mostly everything other than reading allegorical literature.

Given that the play is not a brand new addition to the curriculum, the overall difficulty of the course has not increased; if anything, this assignment actually alleviates the school year’s workload by shifting the reading process from the first week of school to the summer.

If students are unwilling to do even the same amount of reading at a more student-friendly time, they should reconsider why they are taking the course. Honors is meant for students willing to go the extra mile in reading and writing — not for those looking for a mere GPA boost.

Aside from reading the “The Crucible” itself, many students also fretted over the associated “in-class essay” scheduled for the first day of class.

Despite the essays never being assigned, the preliminary assignment of flagging key passages would have provided, at worst, a decent basis for students to write their essays.  At best, the passages would have essentially given students an outline for the entirety of their essays.

The expectations for the summer reading assignment were not that students would come in on the first day of school with mastery over the entire play. Analysis and breakdown of the play were done in class through the form of writing prompts and Socratic seminars.

Instead of viewing summer reading as a stress-inducing blotch on an otherwise pristine summer, students should take it as a beneficial change. Fears and worries over the summer reading are unfounded; such a small summer reading assignment alone fails to justify a swap out of the course.

In retrospect, the assigning of the reading almost parallels the content of the reading itself: just as hysteria clouds the truth of the situation in “The Crucible,” the fears and murmurs surrounding summer reading masked its reality under an intimidating facade.

 

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