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Battle Over Force-Fed Classics Ignores Comeback Of Summer School

May 4, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ A revival of summer school programs has been overshadowed by a battle between educators who tout ″Silas Marner″ as good vacation reading and some parents who shelved a summer program of ″boring″ classics.

Parental concerns that ″the books were too hard″ prompted the Silver Lake Regional High School Committee to defer its year-old summer reading program, said Samuel Erbe, board chairman of the 1,200-student school south of Boston.

″They believe summer is a time of rest and relaxation and we shouldn’t make their children read,″ Erbe said.

California’s summer schools have begun expanding after five years of bare- bones remedial programs, said Nancy McHugh, a high school teacher in Van Nuys, Calif., and president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English. ″Most teachers don’t want to throw out the classics, but they don’t want to ram (George Eliot’s) ‘Silas Marner’ down the necks of students who don’t want to read it,″ she said.

Schools in Oshkosh, Wis., also are reviving summertime remedial programs after many years, said Gladys Veidemanis, director of the council’s Commission on Literature and a teacher at the city’s North High School.

″For a long while we had no summer programs at all,″ she said. ″There simply wasn’t the money for it. Summer school was the first thing to get knocked.″

Massachusetts summer schools still suffer from cuts under tax-limiting Proposition 2 1/2 . This summer, the state is encourging children this summer to watch the public television program ″Reading Rainbow″ to promote reading, said state Department of Education spokesman Terry Zoulas.

Silver Lake’s reading program for its brighter students began last summer, but parents complained that some of the books the board chose were too hard for pupils to tackle on their own and some were too easy.

The books were required reading for advanced and honor students in grades 9 through 12, who were to be tested on them in the fall.

″They have 11th-graders reading ‘Tom Sawyer,’ which I had to read in the sixth grade, and my son reading ’Tale of Two Cities,‴ said JoAnne DeClercq of Pembroke, whose son was entering ninth grade when he read the book. ″He hadn’t even studied that period of history yet.″

The school board voted April 28 to drop the program until teachers could study the selections and expand the program for all students.

″Kids have it too doggone easy now in my opinion,″ said Mafalda Marvelli, 75, of Kingston, one of a score of people who griped to school officials after the vote. ″We all have to do boring things in life.″

The question of classics, however, is much studied by educators, and some said they sympathized with the Silver Lake pupils.

″Frankly, I’ve thought the same things when I see some of the books children are subjected to,″ said Alan Farstrup, director of research and development at the International Reading Association in Newark, Del.

″This insistence on classic curriculum has so turned off kids that they aren’t reading anything at all,″ said Ted Hipple, head of the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Tennessee.

Ms. Veidemanis said one teacher’s classic is another teacher’s junk. She cited John Steinbeck’s ″Travels with Charley″ on the Silver Lake list.

″It’s unfair of anyone to put that on children,″ she said. ″It’s terminally dull.″

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