Podcast replaces books on summer ‘reading’ list

Podcasts 1 Books 0

In Waltham, Mass., a Boston suburb, the summer reading list has substituted a podcast for a book. For the record, you can’t read a podcast.

The high school chose “Serial,” the “This American Life” spinoff that investigated the death of a Baltimore teen, allegedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.

Spoiler alert: The podcast didn’t reach a solid conclusion.

“I was surprised because I figured we’d be reading a book over the summer,” freshman Jack Duffy tells Boston.com. “But it’s a good change. When the school chooses a book, they have to find one that everyone can read, but everyone can listen to this.”

The assignment comes as part of the high school’s ‘One School, One Story’ program, whose mission is “to create a culture in which reading is seen as a lifelong and community-building endeavor.”

Have we mentioned that one listens to a podcast?

What the teachers found is that when they handed out reading assignments in previous years, 10 percent of the students grabbed an audiobook instead.

“We had people coming up to us and saying, ‘You know I was skeptical and felt angry, like ‘we’re not going to have our kids read?’ But now that I’m three episodes in, I’m hooked and totally converted,’” said school librarian Kendall Boninti.

Because, despite the lack of metaphor or alliterative devices, Serial still has a lot to teach students, according to Boninti and Perna. With the ‘whodunit’ Hawk mystery, students applied their powers of observation, logic, and reasoning.

The podcast’s narrative brings up some pretty heavy questions about truth, memory, loyalty, and love. And there’s also something abstractly educational about the real life narrative of high school lives gone awry.

“There’s an episode where they talk about Adnan being angry, and say that he’s not angry enough. You know—‘if you didn’t do it, why aren’t you angry?’ And he replies, ‘I am angry, and I also did things wrong. And I hung out with people and made wrong decisions.’ Those smaller things add up,” said Perna.

She said she wants kids to see that breaking small rules—having one drink at a party, smoking a little bit of weed—can have some big consequences. She hopes the podcast helps to show that the decisions her students are making really do affect their lives.

Students seem excited about the decision, which is a victory in itself.