The Corner


How Bad Are Those College ‘Summer Reading’ Books?

As I entered college back in 1969, all freshmen (sorry if I have just offended anyone) were assigned to read and to be prepared to discuss in English class a book entitled “The Educated Imagination” by Northrop Frye. I can’t say that I remember much about the book, but it definitely was not about political issues.

Over the years, the Left infiltrated the “summer book” reading assignment, just as it has infiltrated everything else. Nowadays, the choices mostly reflect “progressive” obsessions with the evils of Western society and the need for government to do more. Any student who actually bothers to read the book — there’s seldom any penalty for ignoring it — gets a blast of propaganda.

In this Martin Center article, Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, comments on the weakness of most of the book choices.

Wood writes,

The vast majority of the books selected are very recent: younger than the students, and often published within just the last five years. That’s because the colleges and universities are racing to stay topical and putting no weight at all on the qualities that make a book survive beyond its immediate circumstances. When you are pushing politics on students, that’s what you get.

Moreover, the books are usually written at a high-school level. Wouldn’t want to make the kids think that college is going to be an intellectual challenge or some might leave.

Rather than just cursing the darkness, however, NAS has published a list of books that would make for good choices, and Wood links to that list in his article. He writes,

We plainly don’t think college freshmen need to be protected from books that criticize America or raise troubling social issues. There are numerous worthy books that raise hard questions that students at the level of college should be prompted to examine. But it is far better to prompt them with books that exemplify excellent writing, that have stood the test of time, and that pose some degree of intellectual challenge.

Anyone who wants to try to try to influence the summer-book choice at a college or university should take a look at the NAS list and advocate selecting a book that’s on it.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.