The question being debated here is not whether or not a college freshman needs the reading being proposed, as that seems to be a uniform affirmative on both sides of the debate. The question to be answered is what is to be gained by requiring a summer reading, and perhaps more importantly, how does this reading benefit the student and the college?
The big change from high school to college has been pointed out from both sides of the debate. While this change takes many forms, almost none of them take a more important form than the shift from reading for content to critical analysis. In order to learn how to critically analyze a text, the students must first be familiar with the content.
When a student arrives at college with a book already read, the questions raised about the content, which lead to critical thinking, can be forwarded in the conversation before the student is allowed to stagnate in a misconception of what is desired in their approach to the text. In some cases this will require a re-reading of the text, but in all cases it will provide a key to future success across the curriculum.
One of the premier arguments against the required summer reading of a text is an assumption that it will force students to rebel against reading in general. After twelve years of school, is one more book going to function as the final straw? Not if that text is chosen with care, and the importance of the text is shared with the student from the onset.
Many failed summer reading programs fall into precisely this trap of ‘tricking’ the student into reading a text they have no interest in, then ignoring the text once they reach the campus. The text must be seen as a window into a greater opportunity to share ideas and enhance critical thinking. The promise on the other side must be realized. This will be the measure of a successful required summer read.