Kicking Classics to the Curb

Most of us remember high school English classes as a place where we were first introduced to some of the greatest writers the world has ever known. Our teachers spent long hours taking us back in time through the pages of literature, introducing us to Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, Hamlet, Hester Prynne and also more modern day characters such as Holden Caulfield. We learned from their fatal flaws, experienced their losses and were inspired by their triumphs. Through their stories, though fictional, we came to understand human nature– that people are people, regardless of the time and situation. In many ways, we also gleaned a better understanding of history.

Along with all of the frustrated students, parents and teachers that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been racking up, perhaps other casualties of the standards are the works of Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and other classic writers. As if wading through the intricacies of a Greek tragedy wasn’t hard enough, Common Core expects English teachers to give up some of that in favor of non-fiction “informational texts”. Imagine a teacher trying to inspire a love of the written word in a room full of high school students with such materials as presidential executive orders or the latest policies being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Don’t laugh. It’s for real, and it’s part of Common Core. According to their website, reading this type of stuff will help prepare students for the future: “The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

Other well-respected educators disagree saying de-emphasizing classics in favor of non-fiction informational materials is more likely to have the opposite effect on college readiness, particularly for those in low income brackets. Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein and University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky co-wrote the paper How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk. In it, the authors make the case that the achievement gap between lower and higher income students will widen under CCSS: “High-achieving students in academically oriented private and suburban schools will continue to get the rich literary-historical content that promotes critical and analytical thinking, while others will get little more than watered-down training in reading comprehension.”

Another professor, Mary Grabar, says Common Core instructs teachers to “read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all ‘texts’ to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA’s Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Wonderful. This will do nothing to inspire a love of reading or history in students of any age. Just what we need in a time when many students heading into college must take remedial English courses as freshmen in order to move into their college-level coursework. Add this fiasco that is Common Core into an educational environment where even college students can’t correctly answer 4th-grade level American history questions, as has been documented by many “man-on-the-street” interviews.

How ironic that states which accepted the Common Core State Standards had to do so in order to compete for Obama’s Race to the Top funds. Just based on the math and English standards, it seems more like a race toward mediocrity. This is all being done to education with lots of money from big corporations (Exxon) and wealthy foundations (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)…and it’s nothing new. As John Taylor Gatto pointed out in his book An Underground History of American Education , we’ve been down this road before and the results will be just as bad this time around as they ever were: “The impact of foundation money upon education has been very heavy, tending to promote uniformity in approach and method, tending to induce the educator to become an agent for social change and a propagandist for the development of our society in the direction of some form of collectivism.” [Emphasis mine]

Whenever the elites start throwing money at anything–in this case public education—you can be sure there’s something in it for them.

 

 

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