inEducation: Cutting Class (ics!)
It might not mark the end of civilization as we know it, but it could come pretty darn close. A recent Washington Post article revealed a push for the designers of The Common Core Standards of English to increase non-fiction and informational texts in the classrooms to 70% by the time students are in 12th grade. To achieve this goal would require significantly reducing the use of fictional literature, including much loved classics, poetry, and novels. The gist of the concern is that students are graduating high school unable to sufficiently process informational text well enough to succeed in college or the work place. If so, than this is genuinely a cause for concern, yet the solution may be more devastating than the problem.
The Common Core Standards, created at the behest of the National Governor’s Association with a multi-million dollar investment from the Gates Foundation, are the latest efforts to create a consistent set of standards from state to state. A noble goal in theory—but who’s coming up with the practices?
Ideally these informational texts—suggestions for which, according to the Post, include de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and the GSA publication “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal, Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” – would be taught in the subject-appropriate classroom. So a sensible person could expect to see de Tocqueville in the history or social studies classroom, and EO 13423 in … Government? Science? Driver’s Ed? Unfortunately, in the states where the standards have already been implemented, many of these texts have instead landed squarely in the English classroom. Putting aside the obvious question of which teachers, by virtue of training and interest, are better qualified to teach these texts, consider instead what is being sacrificed to the Gods of Good Workers.
In one state, an English teacher surrendered the time she previously spent teaching a unit on Arthurian legend in order to make way for a chapter from The Tipping Point and other essays by Gladwell. How civilization must tremble when Good King Arthur is brought low not by Mordred, but by Malcolm! Now imagine a senior term paper inspired not by Huxley or Vonnegut, but “FedViews,” a publication of the Reserve Bank of San Francisco. (If more informational texts must be in the English classroom, should it not be something more fitting like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style?)
Great—and sometimes even not so great—literary fiction teaches among other things, the universality of the human experience, a lesson not to be forfeited lightly. Fiction promotes the ideals of endless possibility, creativity, and the limitlessness of “what-if?” Are these lessons not at least as important as the ability to process informational text?
Though the stated intent of these goals is not to eliminate classics and great works from the classroom, if informational text needs to be added, something in the current curriculum will need to be taken away. That’s math even an English teacher can understand.
The Common Core Standards of English that recommend these practices have already been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. Local teachers, parents, students—what do YOU say?