By Wendy Powell and Robi Marshall
Summer vacation—a refreshing time for recreation, relaxation, and …reading! Not an after-thought or an “add-on,” summer reading is a core component of an education at Arma Dei Academy. Our summer reading books are carefully selected to complete our school year curriculum, to create a shared culture, to foster the development of lifelong learners, and to enrich the moral and spiritual development of students of all ages.
A Complete Curriculum: Students work hard during the school year and are ready for their extra weeks of summer vacation. And yet over the course of a complete Arma Dei Academy education, these students can use this time to read over forty summer books. Not only are many of these books “classics”—books whose importance has stood the test of time—but they are also windows into the various times, places, and cultures studied during the school year. In addition, students wandering the streets of Boston with Paul Revere or the desolate plains of Mordor with Sam and Frodo are also building a richer vocabulary, improving writing skills, and increasing reading speed and comprehension. These books provide a wide pool for students to draw from for future writing assignments and to improve word usage and problem solving. The “secret” to high scores on the critical reading section of the SAT is simple: READ!
A Shared Culture: Have you ever noticed how easily you connect with someone when you find he grew up in your hometown—or he listens to “your” music? This is especially true when you have read the same books. Even students entering the Academy for the first time share a summer reading book in common with all the other students in their grade. They are immediately prepared to participate in thought-provoking, meaningful discussion.
American philosopher and classicist Allan Bloom considered “shared books” to be the foundation of culture, politics, and individual thinking. Arma Dei Academy reading program develops a community of readers and provides entrance to the great conversation of ideas that transcends both place and time. Our well-read students have books in common with well-educated people around the world!
A Lifelong Learner: The Academy is not interested in producing students who perform only in the classroom. Rather, we are invested in developing leaders who will spend their lives learning—who will spend their lives reading. The habit of reading is developed when it is an integrated part of daily living. Look no further than Theodore Roosevelt for the truth in the statement, “Leaders are readers”. He managed to read several books each week, not to mention writing a couple of dozen of his own, while still serving as cowboy, soldier, governor, father of six, and our president. Researchers have long observed that students’ I.Q. scores drop or stagnate over the summer months— unless those students are reading. Similar conclusions have been reached about brain atrophy in adults—even about the increased risk of certain types of dementia—deterred by a lifestyle that includes reading. Daily reading is a habit that will enrich the lives of our students.
A Moral Compass: In Finding God at Harvard Robert Fong writes, “I believe in the mimetic and moral worth of texts that allow my students to rehearse their lives in their imaginations, to know themselves in versions of what they might have been in different times and circumstances and what they desire to be.” In Touchstone magazine’s December 2008 issue, John Granger observes, “From these texts, we can build a conversation about virtue and vice, and about what reading does to the right-side-up soul.” Through reading, we experience vicariously a wide range of life choices and we see the consequences of those choices. We meet a tremendous variety of people—and we see those we do and do not want to become ourselves. We also learn to appreciate the creative and transforming power of words in the midst of an image-based society. It is significant that in a pagan world devoted to images and idols, God chose to reveal Himself through words. According to educator Douglas Wilson, “A genuinely classical education developed a particular kind of heart and mind….It assumed an environment bursting with language, in stark contrast to our own more image-centered day.” An Arma Dei Academy education is one in which each student’s moral and spiritual development is enriched by extensive reading.