Sorry for the light blogging this week - coming back to a regular schedule after a week off for spring break is always a big jarring the first few days back. And also since I am not a professional blogger, I don't feel the responsibility to blog every day if my other responsibilities are calling me. When this blog starts feeling more like a (very low paying) job - I'll be done!
The debate over Core Curriculum has had my mind swimming over the past week or so. My state of Ohio is set to be in full compliance by the end of next year. And even though we are homeschoolers and have opted out of most standardized testing, I know that this will affect my kids when they take the ACT and SAT exams. So in a round about way, this does indeed affect all of us.
My curriculum tends is deeply literature based.
The Core Curriculum seems as if it is going to be watering down the exposure to good literature:
Loss of Classic LiteratureWhy do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?
Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).
In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.
From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.
This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training. This division of reading standards was clearly not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, because it makes English teachers responsible for something they have not been trained to teach and will not be trained to teach unless the entire undergraduate English major and preparatory programs in English education are changed.
Common Core’s damage to the English curriculum is already taking shape. Anecdotal reports from high school English teachers indicate that the amount of informational or nonfiction reading they are being told to do in their classroom is 50 percent or more of their reading instructional time—and that they will have time only for excerpts from novels, plays, or epic poems if they want students to read more than very short stories and poems.
Long-Term ConsequencesA diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation. It also prevents students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language. Perhaps of greatest concern, it may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.
As a home educator, I find this to be very concerning, because most of our teachable moments have come about through the reading of great books.
Two such moments have happened this past week. Yesterday, my high school boys and I were reading Gift of the Magi, by O.Henry. This is the story of a young married couple that sacrifice their most precious possessions in order to buy Christmas presents for each other - the twist is that the gifts they give were to supplement or enhance the possessions that they no longer possess! After the reading I tried to impress upon the boys the great moral of sacrifice and love this couple had for each other... but my practical boys who have definitely lived through the financial ups and downs of our household, weren't having it!! The moral they got was, the importance of planning ahead for the holidays and making your goals together!! It's not that the boys are against self-sacrifice - what seemed to irk them was unnecessary and wasted self-sacrifice! It was a great discussion.
The second moment happened with my lovely 13-year-old daughter Izzy. Izzy and I made it a goal to read through the Little House Books this year. We started off with Little House in the Big Woods and are now up to On the Shores of Silver Lake.
I have found that when we read a series of books like this, we develop a relationship with the characters. It is as if we have watched Laura grow up from a little girl younger than Rosie is now, to a young lady who is now Izzy's age! We have seen Pa and Ma's struggles and we have discussed aspects of their lives as a married couple and as parents. We have cheered for them and we have had to put the book down and take a break because some of their hardships were heartbreaking or terrifying. And so it was as we started on the Shores of Silver Lake. This book opens with a much darker atmosphere than the other books. The home that is always so tidy and well kept is in deep disarray, everyone is recovering from scarlet fever except Laura and Pa, and Mary has tragically lost her vision to the disease. The first few pages are quite sobering after the comforting ending of the previous book On the Banks of Plumb Creek.
The Ma and Pa Ingals seem changed too. There is a new baby, little Grace, but she hasn't seemed to bring delight into the family. The years of struggling to survive in this place has taken its toll along with the illness and Mary's condition. Everyone is older, and even the faithful companion, Jack the family dog, is a shadow of his former self. Laura, who has been so busy trying to run the household and care for her weakened family and her blind sister, knows she has been neglecting her dog - and she knows her dog is still loving and loyal to her despite the oversights. Laura does make an effort to fix up Jack's little bed for him like she used to and he carefully steps into his bedding and does his three circles before plopping down awkwardly, and going to sleep. The next morning the stalwart little dog is cold and dead in his bed just where he fell asleep the night before.
And Izzy started sobbing. And then I started sobbing. And in a minute we were holding each other in our arms and crying over the death of this little dog that died over 100 years ago, far, far away from here. A dog that we never even set eyes on - except that we knew him. We remembered his antics and his bravery in the Little Woods, and we remembered his triumphant arrival in Indian Country after nearly drowning in the river, and we remembered all the help he gave Laura as they settled on The Banks of Plumb Creek. We knew him. And we know Laura and our grief was also for her and the aching emptiness that comes with the death of a good pet.
I think of these things and I am so grateful that I have had these opportunities with my children - to talk about great stories in the pages of literature - and the opportunity to experience the range of the human experience from people who lived in a different time and place - yet not so different from our own experience. And I wonder how a "Core Curriculum" is going to emulate any of that? What kind of emotion will reading manuals and technical books evoke from our students? The thought of it evokes boredom to my mind. It's a shame. I wouldn't have missed these experiences with my children for anything in the world - and as I look over the books planned for the rest of the year and the summer I look forward to even more such moments with my children. But what about the other children...? What a loss for them.