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Should a Book Be a School Supply?

By Justin Stygles
 | Sep 18, 2018
Classroom Library

For years I have wondered if a book should be considered a school supply. Recently, I posed this question to parents, educators, and “friends” on social media.

As a research question, I must concede that clarity is lacking; the question is rather open-ended. I expected the respondents to assume I meant an independent reading book. I posed the question because I sought to evaluate what parents think about ensuring students come to school with their own independent reading book.

Twenty-four hours after posting my question, I gleaned two major observations.

First, either due to vagueness or the open-ended nature of the question, many people considered a “book” to be synonymous with a textbook. Second, most educators agreed that a book should be a school supply. Parents and community members felt that books should come from the classroom, or at least a library.

Before I discuss the results, I would like to share some information. I am not a data analyst; I am merely making conclusions based on the information posted. Second, I posted my question in two forums: my personal Facebook page and a closed group representing parents. My “friends” consisted of colleagues and coworkers from my current career fields and several previous jobs as well as friends and acquaintances from high school, college, and today. Many of the responses on my personal page were from current educators. The closed group included parents from a rural community whose children were enrolled in the local school system.

As educators, we should consider the implications and questions that need to be raised beyond this very informal study. I wonder how many students, past and present, consider reading to be an act performed in a textbook?  Is this why a certain number of students do not read beyond school? Does this suggest that students who have experience reading independently outside of the classroom are more likely to become lifelong readers? 

Because I did not define a book as a trade book or an independent reading book, I can see why many parents revolted at the notion that a book be considered a school supply. What parent wants to invest in a basal reader or a textbook? However, if they believe I am the sole supplier of independent reading, I am quite concerned about that value of reading in a maturing reader’s life. There is a strong reality that, although we impart the value of reading, our students might be resistant because reading is not prioritized in the child’s overall existence. This also places a tremendous, and honorable, responsibility to ensure the best books are available to my students for independent reading so that they may be inspired to read beyond the limitations of our school day.

My question did not consider whether one book constitutes a school supply for an entire year, much like a package of pencils. Nor did my question suggest an invitation for consistent participation in the class book order.

To conclude, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, the idea of a reading book as a school supply was met with heavy resistance. Although reading is the integral component of education, books are materials that many people consider a responsibility, if not an obligation, of the school. Although I agree that our schools and district have a fiduciary (or moral) obligation to stock and maintain classroom libraries for the sake of readers, I am left to wonder how invested families are (again, disregarding those who do not have the time or resources to support independent reading habits) in the development of reading and lifelong reading outside the classroom.

If I can take anything away from my tentative, informal research, it’s that we have no greater responsibility than to show our students that reading is more than a practice performed in a classroom and to help readers develop their relationship with an individual text and the desire to seek reading beyond our brick and mortar walls. Our responsibility begins with an earnest commitment to curate classroom libraries.

Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, Maine. He’s taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter at @justinstygles.

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