26 January 2013

on the new common core standards in literature

Listening to Studio360 on this new common core curricula which some have feared would significantly reduce the role of literary fiction in high school classrooms.

Forgive me if my thoughts aren't completely sorted, I've just listened to the podcast & I have recently found myself thinking more & more about the importance of literature in juxtaposition with its consistent devaluation.

The statement from David Coleman, one of the primary authors of the new curricula, on the podcast reassured me. He states that the new standards are meant to ensure literary non-fiction is addressed with the same strict attention to author choice as fiction, & that the new core steps up the intensity of the expected reading in high schools. These are both good things from my seat in Brooklyn.

While I was in high school, my English classes were often (always) reading the abridged versions of the literary canon. This is clearly problematic. Dumbing down course material doesn't help students learn. As Mr. Coleman says in the interview, the only way to learn how to read a difficult text is to read that difficult text. It's also disturbing that American high school students are reading about four grade levels below where they need to be to succeed in college/the world. Obviously, this is incredibly disappointing. The entire education system in America seems to have been reduced to the lowest common denominator, & for what?

There are obviously also many other issues at play when it comes to the reading comprehension of our students. Institutionalized discrimination based on race, economic status, geography etc... play a large role. But perhaps part of the answer is toughening up standards... or at least requiring students to read the actual texts & not some sanitized, dumbed down version. Critical thinking is more than reading, it's discussion too. If students can't have a common core on which to base the discussions needed to achieve real education, then we have a serious problem. This is why I think the three kinds of reading are so important. They facilitate this critical & analytical thought.