books / opinions / rants

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Bookworms?!

Last month I received my very first influenza immunization shot and foolishly thought that I would be in the clear from a crippling illness that would have me giving dirty looks towards foods, shedding one sweater only to put on another only to take it off again, or drinking gnarly, vaguely citrus-flavored vitamin c boosters. Oh! How I was so, so wrong! Last night, when the sweaty shivers began to set in, I stumbled upon this article about how basically literature programs in USA high schools are boned, working me into a tizzy. Considering my body was thrusting me into meltdown mode, I thought I was just delirious and just needed sleep, that what I had read was just a horrible dream.

This morning, when I woke up, I realized that I actually had read that article and it was definitely 4realz. With my anger edging me on (or it could have been the orange that wasn’t sitting well), I started doing more research on it, so I could try to see both angles of this seemingly heartbreaking development in the war against liberal arts—that, and if I saw it on another site, I would be more inclined to believe it. It just seemed so very farfetched and somewhat blasphemous. “They’re threatening to take away To Kill a Mockingbird and other classics?,” I thought, “THIS MEANS WAR.”


It took a while, yet at the end bread crumb trail, I found what I believe to be the original source of the Telegraph article. Common Core State Standards in English spark war over words.

Essentially, 46/50 states have signed on in agreement that in K-12 education, non-fiction will become more prevalent. Much more prevalent.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

All across the US, English teachers are revamping their curriculum, cutting short stories, poetry and creative writing to fit in the exorbitant raise in recommended nonfiction texts, such as Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the General Services Administration’s Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. Some of the aforementioned English teachers are feeling bullied, as if they’re creativity is being stolen from them in order to bolster critical and informative thinking that can only truly (er…supposedly) fostered by non-fiction reading.

Gonna suggest this for next month’s book club!

However, the worst part of the whole thing, in my opinion, is the intentional misunderstanding of the new standards. There is no where within the new standards that say the strain needs to be placed on English teachers, just that there needs to be more non-fiction texts in K-12 education, and I agree. According to The Washington Post’s article “What is on reading list under Common Core standards,” some of the example and recommended pieces for non-fiction reading include The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson and “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass, which not only sound a bit more appealing and interesting (in my own opinion) than anything put out by the Environmental Protection Agency, it is also something that doesn’t necessarily have to be read in an English class, but a history class.

David Coleman, one of the top dogs in the rewriting of standards, thinks that educators are deliberately misinterpreting the new regulations. Sure, the standards have a heavier demand for non-fiction, only that doesn’t need to fall on the shoulders of English. Teachers in the social sciences, science and math should require more reading that is subject-pertinent, which would leave English teachers to continue teaching literature. Alas! It seems that the massive blow will be to good old J.D. Salinger and William Faulkner.

“It does really concern me that these facts are not as clear as they should be.”

Me, too, bro.

I agree that reading non-fiction texts makes you think differently than, say, The Great Gatsby, but there is no way that one is superior to the other. They’re different, yet complimentary. Should someone know how to do both? Yes. Should an English teacher who wrote his/her dissertation on the symbolism of a talking dog in Anna Karenina have to teach both? No.

In my high school, my global studies course assigned true/false quizzes about masterpieces of cinematic proportions that were vaguely related to the country we were “studying” (read: skimming textbooks for underlined definitions of terms like peninsula and border).

“Man, I am having troubles understanding Buddhism, I better rewatch Little Buddha again! Keanu Reeves as Buddha is totally believable!”

In my economics course, the most riveting moment was filling in a wordfind that pertained to an episode of 20/20 called “The New Rich: Secrets, Strategies (and What you Can Learn From Them)” that focused on Kimora Lee Simmons, Dov Charney and KFC’s Colonel Sanders. Tenants of modern day society!

Role model.

Right…and it’s the English courses, where I was critically thinking, being motivated to read outside of school assignments (NONSENSE), and writing comprehensive and extensive essays on the regular basis, that really need to be reworked. It’s bogus. This new standard of education really should not squeeze the life out of valuable and influential English courses, but I have a feeling that it will inevitably will. It scares me, because it will teach children that fictional reading is frivolous. It worries me, because reading can give people so much joy and take them on wonderful adventures–make them feel love, hope, anger, betrayal, and everything else, and if artsy students can’t find that at school, there is a chance they never will. It saddens me, because I briefly considered going into teaching k-12, but this just breaks my heart.

I don’t know the specifics or the inner workings of k-12 schooling, and is only the tip of the outrage iceberg, it’s just my inner bookworm is just so upset.


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