811 in the collection
NYT CCSS ELA PR
"Unfortunately there has been some elimination
So, you see, we really only use literature in
the classroom as a sort of bucket to carry in
little nuggets of concept and skill. The
literature doesn't really have any intrinsic
value of its own. Why read the whole novel when
we only really care about (aka test) a couple of
paragraphs on page 142? If we were hoping to
pick up some metaphor-reading skills along the
way, why not just read a page of metaphor
This is an attitude of such staggering ignorance and numbskullery that I hardly know how to address it. This is like saying, "Why bother with getting to know someone and dating and talking to each other and listening to each other and spending months just doing things together and sharing hopes and dreams and finally deciding to commit your lives to each other and planning a life together and then after all that finally sleeping together-- why do all that when you could just hire a fifty- dollar hooker and skid straight to the sex?" It so completely misses the point, and if neither Taylor nor Skillen can see how it misses the point, I'm not even sure where to begin.
Literature creates a complex web of
relationships, relationships between the reader
and the author, between the various parts of the
text, between the writing techniques and the
You don't get the literature without reading the
whole thing. The "we'll just read the critical
part of the work" school of teaching belongs
right up there with a "Just the last five
minutes" film festival. Heck, as long as you see
the sled go into the furnace or the death star
blow up or Kevin Spacey lose the limp, you don't
really need the rest of the film for anything,
Taylor does not know that English teachers
have heard of non-fiction
Taylor makes sure to point out that sometimes,
non-fiction is interesting to students. Why,
thanks, ma'm! I have also heard that students
enjoy the rap music and often eat more than one
type of food. Also, water is wet. Taylor also
doesn't know that some literature is non-
fiction; like most writers on this topic, she
mentions the Gettysburg Address as a new non-
fiction focus, even though the speech (along
with "I Will Fight No More Forever") is in every
major 11th grade literature anthology in the US.
But Taylor goes with the notion, anecdotally
supported by one administrator, that the English
teaching world is loaded with teachers who only
and always teach fiction, even though there was
this one time that an administrator totally saw
a class fully engaged in discussion about a real
I don't know. Maybe New York is just another
world. But I find it hard to believe that Taylor
could not have walked up any hall and found an
English teacher who has always taught non-
fiction material in her class. So if non- fiction
is not news to us, then what's the big deal?
Hold that thought for a few subheadings.
Taylor does not know why we teach literature
in the first place
Hint: it's not just so that literature can be a
bucket in which to carry other skills to the
The purposes of teaching literature is a topic
that deserves not just its own post, but its own
blog. But let me just skim the surface of the
Literature lets students experience people and
places and feelings and ideas that they do not
encounter in their own world, and it lets them
encounter things exactly like what they
experience in their own, and it lets them
experience both in ways that open the experience
up to new understanding and expression.
Literature opens up new worlds to students, and
it opens up familiar worlds as well. It builds
depth of understanding and depth of expression.
It gives them practice and exercise in
developing, holding, connecting many ideas.
Reading literature is part of the process of
growing and advancing and becoming more fully
Taylor slips in the notion that some literature
is just hard and probably pointless; she
recounts the story of one teacher who was happy
to cut Beowulf back to an excerpt
because, you know, who really wants to teach
that piece of ancient junk?
But the selection of particular works is tricky,
because the "right" work is found at the
intersection of teacher, students, and the work
itself. A literary teacher is the students'
guide to that world. The best guides to a place
are not the ones who either don't know it or who
just plain hate it; the best guides are the
people who know and love the territory. You
could not pay me enough to teach "Paradise Lost"
to high school students, but I have a colleague
who does it every year with huge success.
Meanwhile, I'm about the only teacher I know who
likes to teach Heart of Darkness. Most on
point, I teach "Hamlet" every year, and I teach
it differently every year, partly because of me
and partly because of whatever group of students
Pet peeve: "making" works relevant. Either you
can see how it connects to the world and your
students or you can't-- there's no point in
trying to force or fake it. But of course all of
that also applies to non-fiction as well. Here's
a delightful quote from a newly-minted assistant
Yes, because how people change and grow and
develop is certainly a fake, not-real-world
issue that teenagers could never relate to. Gah!
The notion that fiction is somehow "fake" and
unrelated to the "real" world is just so-- dumb!
Literature is one more engage with what is real
and true about the world, and anybody who
doesn't get that is welcome to come watch my
students argue endlessly about Edna Pontillier
(The Awakening) and the proper role of
women in the world.
Taylor does not know what the real problem
with Common Core reading is
If administrators keep their heads and don't let
Common Core scare them, the losses under Core
reading are minimal. But if administrators start
to worry about test scores, things get ugly.
Perdido Street School lays out some of the losses in New York school district that lose their heads and jump into the EngageNY pool. That's
similar to what happens in places where
administrators take seriously all the baloney
about Close Reading 2.0, which is a thing that calls itself close reading
and which is really just test prep.
For schools that decide to let the Big
Standardized Test drive the curriculum bus, the path is clear-- the significant change is not read more non-fiction, but to do all reading in
little chunks. The Common Core can pay lip
service to reading whole works and developing an
understanding of themes and ideas that are
developed through an entire work, but that will
never, ever be on the test.
So, as Taylor's article hints but never flat out
admits, we don't cut "Romeo and Juliet"
entirely, but we only read a few key portions.
Tom Sawyer? We'll just read that fence-
painting scene, thanks. We'll read literary
slices and filets. We'll get our non-fiction
fill with short articles. But we will never,
ever again, read an entire book from front to
And we will always read our short selections to
suit someone else's purpose. Personal responses
are not the point; the point is to find the
answers to the (probably multiple choice)
questions in the packet, questions modeled on
the BS Test so that students are better prepared
for that experience. Do not stop to develop any
sort of personal relationship with the reading;
figure out what the questions want from you, and
go look for that.
Common Core ELA supports the notion that
reading, in fact all human relationships, are
simple transactions in which the only real
question is "What can I get from this and how
can I get it?" It is dehumanizing for both
teachers and students.
Outside of missing all of that, Taylor did a
super job with the article. It's fluffy and to
the untrained eye hardly looks like more Common
Core PR at all.
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