I might not be that fond of Kafka, but I LOVE literature.
I don’t know why I care so much about the trends I’m seeing in American education. My daughter is in high school and will soon be out of the system. There is just something in me that rebels against the idea of a government organization–possibly (most likely?) influenced by gigantic corporate interests–making decisions that influence local curricula.
Why would we assume that these corporations are interested in anything but their bottom line? What if there is more to educating a person than their eventual entrance into the corporate mines?
There is also this part of me who loved reading and literature so much that I trained to become an English teacher. Now, I only very briefly worked in the field of education–I wasn’t all that keen about giving out detentions and forcing kids to read stuff they weren’t interested in reading. Yeah. That’s a problem for someone who is trying to teach in a classroom and assign things and administer tests–but I’ve been a lifelong advocate of reading, literacy, and teachers. Teachers are awesome! I love them. I so appreciate what they do, mostly because, as stated above, I can’t do what they do in a classroom situation.
I went into English education because I LOVED THE BOOKS. I wanted to share that joy with others, namely, high school students.
Now the new Common Core education standards for English are calling for a reduction in reading literary fiction and an increase in reading non-fiction–so that students are prepared to read manuals and reports and who knows what all else in the corporate world.
From the Common Core State Standards Initiative Myths vs. Facts webpage.(http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/myths-vs-facts/)
Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the ELA standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary nonfiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.
I just disagree with this. I disagree with it overall, and I disagree because I think the “fact” the way it is stated is misleading. It downplays the understanding that English Lit teachers will be asking their students to read materials that aren’t literary works of art. I wonder what literary classic is going to be read in Biology? Or World History?
I suppose if there is truly just a spreading out and blending of the reading material, I couldn’t argue, but that begs another question: Is a science teacher the best person to teach Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in order to talk about ethics in scientific research? Or the history teacher to discuss the narrative style of William Faulkner? Is an English teacher the best person to teach students how to write a scientific treatise? Wouldn’t a science teacher be better at that?
The thing is, while English teachers may be asked to instruct students in science, history, and technology texts, I’m skeptical that the reverse will be true–which means literature is getting the short shrift. Maybe I’m wrong. I HOPE I’m wrong. I’d never be so HAPPY about being wrong.
I am sad.
Sad, because I believe reading literature should be valued for itself, not what it can do for a student’s marketability.
Sad, because we can learn and think about the human condition when we read complex literary novels.
Sad, because literature is a huge part of our cultural history.
Sad, because I simply love books, beautiful language, the creation of layered characters and situations that reflect the world of the author.
Sad, because school can be much more than technical training and passing the SAT (the SAT is being rewritten to reflect the new Common Core standards–so in essence, anyone who wants to go to college will have to gear their educations toward those standards) and other evaluative tests.
I know that some education experts, teachers, parents, administrators, CEO’s, and government officials see the Common Core as a positive step toward standardizing the education of all students in our country, giving every child the same chance to succeed. I appreciate that point of view. I can even see the validity of the argument. I just can’t embrace it. Not as a lover of literature.
I can only hope that students will get enough of a taste of literary fiction in the curriculum that they begin to crave more and seek it out on their own.
An amuse-bouche of Byron. An appetizer of Angelou. A sip of Shakespeare.
A nibble of Nabokov.
Reading lists for both classic and modern literary works can be found all over the internet and by consulting with your local librarian or bookseller. Here are a few I found.
Goodreads top 100 Literary Novels of All Time www.goodreads.com
Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels www.modernlibrary.com
Top 100 Works in World Literature http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/28
Pulitzer Prize Winners http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat
I wrote an opinion piece about reading classic literature in the Reporter newspaper this week. It will be up online in a week or two. Check HERE for Some Not So Light Summer Reading. It will be in the June 13 edition.