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The Loaded Bookshelf

I'm an Editor in book publishing. All opinions are my own.

Currently reading

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
John Berendt
American Rust
Philipp Meyer
The First Rumpole Omnibus
John Mortimer

Literature and the Common Core

Today I want to write about something close to my heart:  the study of literature.  I’ll warn now that this is an editorial.  Opinions are mine alone.


Obviously literature is important to me, or I wouldn’t be here!  I bet the same is true of the rest of you.  I have loved reading my whole life, primarily fiction.  I was an English major in college, and work as an Associate Editor at a major book publisher, again working primarily with fiction.  Not only do I find reading enjoyable, but I find it important.  The study of literature, particularly classic literature, has enriched my life.  It has given me skills in literacy, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and critical analysis.  It has deepened my understanding of history: political, social, and cultural.  It has given me a lifelong love for the written word.


Given this background, I am deeply concerned about the new educational standards for English Language Arts in the Common Core.  The Common Core standards have been adopted in my state (NY) and 45 others across America, though a few states have halted, at least temporarily, its implementation due to myriad concerns.  I share many of these concerns about the Common Core, but closest to my heart is the decreased emphasis on the study of classic literature in favor of non-fiction, informational texts.  Indeed, the standards specify that 70% of student reading should be of informational texts over all courses, and 50% in English class. 


Let me repeat that.  The standards hold that IN ENGLISH CLASS, students should spend no more than 50% of their reading time on literature.


This makes me rage.


It gets worse.  For instance, the recommended reading lists for informational texts are, at best, concerning and, at worst, suspiciously ideological.  They might include, for instance, directives from the Environmental Protection Agency.  Even if you personally agree with the readings, the system seems ripe for abuse and ideological one-sidedness depending on what the teacher believes.  Further, the recommended texts may just be . . . tedious.  An instruction manual, according to the Common Core, has as much value to confer literacy and intellectual engagement as a Jane Austen novel.  Finally, the standards recommend the strange (to me) practice of telling teachers NOT to provide historical or cultural context to students about their reading material.  Students are left to read a document blindly, with no guidance as to its relevance or importance.


As someone who majored in English at a top thirty university, I know that these standards would leave students woefully unprepared for the rigors of a selective institution in general, and for the study of English at the college level in particular.  In fact, the leading English Language Arts and curriculum expert on the Common Core validation board, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, refused to validate the standards, citing her opinion that the standards will leave students unprepared for the rigors of a selective college (a link leading to some of the articles she has written or co-written on the subject is included below). 


Students deserve better. 


If you are a parent, future parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or anybody who cares about education--particularly reading and literacy--I urge you to examine deeply the Common Core standards.  If you are as concerned as I, stopcommoncore.com is a wonderful resource to explore, and that website has links to state-based organizations as well. 


A few resources: