New Common Core Standards drop classic novels in favor of “informational texts.”
The US school system will undergo some big changes within the next two years, chiefly due to a decision to remove a good deal of classic novels from the curriculum, or so the recent media reports would have you think.
The idea behind discouraging or reducing the teaching of old favorites like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird is to make room for non-fiction “informational texts” in the curriculum. These should be approved by the Common Core Standards of each state. Suggested texts include, “Recommended Levels of Insulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council,” among others.
Mmmm, I just love me a good read on insulation levels while I soak in the tub.
So, the idea behind this is that children who pass through such a school system will be better prepared for the workplace, their brains packed with useful, practical knowledge rather than brimming with literary fluff (my personal summation). It has the backing of the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief of State School Officers, and even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partially funded the directive.
But is that estimate correct? Will reading more non-fiction in favor of fiction breed better writing, or more informed graduates? The discussion is extremely divided. One Arkansas teacher wrote in this Telegraph article,
In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?
Meanwhile, another reader weighed in for the pros of teaching more scientific texts:
I don’t understand how adding non-fiction books to reading lists REDUCES imagination. Hard science is all about imagination–the “what ifs” of nature and the universe… I am sick of English professors acting like English Literature is the only bastion of imagination/critical thinking/culture.
When I first read that article stating that The Catcher in the Rye and other novels specifically would be gone from curriculums nation-wide, I was alarmed and frightened, though I now know it was needlessly so. The reactions of protesters are a tad hyperbolic, given that the two soporific texts I named above are found amongst a long list of alternate suggestions in various subjects, for instance Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe by Nicholas Nicastro, and The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston, interesting and well-written books in their own right. English Literature classes will not be barred from teaching certain classic novels, as some of the reports would have you believe, though they may have more limited time to teach them than before. Yes, the school system will be changed and possibly not for the better, but Salinger and Lee aren’t going anywhere.
All in all, the arguments for both sides make overblown assumptions: on the one, that students will miraculously be better prepared for the job market, on the other, that all imagination and creativity will be drained from impressionable young adults. So, which side do you stand on, if either? Is the teaching of informational texts merited, or best left to vocational studies? Tell us in a comment below!
Ahh… idyllic picture of college life, mais non? Well, recently on American campuses, two not-so-wonderful events transpired.
Fail Numero Uno: Let’s begin with that bastion of the Ivy League, Cornell University. It seems that the school’s stalwart repositories of knowledge, its libraries, have been used for some non-academic purposes, namely the filming of pornographic videos. Perhaps… the videos were an ironic take on the cinematic genre, perhaps, an homage if you will, to youth and freedom and self-expression. Perhaps it was just your standard porn featuring a young lady engaged in some solo activity and co-starring Carpenter Hall, the Engineering School’s library.
One student, who (in the pursuit of education, I am sure) watched the video before the (I assume “frantic”) campus administrators removed the link, offers this analysis: “She’s facing a window (the one by the bike racks) and it’s broad daylight. And at one point you can see people behind her studying.”
Fail Numero Dos: Ever accidentally hit “reply all” on an email and immediately realize you’ve spammed dozens of people? Well, imagine that to the tune of forty thousand people. That’s just what happened to NYU student Max Wiseltier, who innocently was trying to simply reply to the bursar’s office. He realized his error almost instantly and tried to do the right thing by apologizing to those who received the email meant only for the bursar. It should have ended there. But, as the campus’ newspaper reported, Max’s email “triggered a rare, University-wide revelation.” That revelation? “We simultaneously realized that any message, complaint, whim, link, video, or GIF could be sent to nearly 40,000 people in an instant.”
It didn’t take long for thousands of students to act on this delightful way to terrorize their campus. The system, unsurprisingly, soon crashed. Not long after, it was discovered that incorrect listserv software was attached to the original message, sparking what is now going down in campus legend as the “Reply-apocalypse.” Whoops.
No More Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room: Tracking Chips On the Rise for Junior High and High School StudentsPosted: November 27, 2012
I have a child in junior high and a child in high school. Every day, both of them must wear their school-issued identification card on a lanyard around their necks at all times. The doors to their schools are locked at 8:30 a.m. After being checked out on a video camera and buzzed in, parents and other visitors must present a driver’s license upon entering the building, and then that visitor is issued a sticker with a scanned image of their license picture and their name in bold letters. The sticker must be worn at all times while on school grounds.
My children do not attend school in the Gaza Strip. They are in a small Texas suburb where, honestly, the biggest threat to their well-being are West Nile mosquitoes, all of which, sadly, are too tiny for State-issued sticky-IDs.
Still, it is not enough. Now in addition to their dog-collars…err.. I mean “IDs,”… soon, they, like thousands of other Texas’ kids, will be required to have their IDs “chipped,” as in microchipped with GPS tracking devices that will let administrators and, presumably, teachers, know where they are at all times.
Not surprisingly, there has been backlash. One student, Andrea Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas, just won the right to refuse to wear the embedded identification. While Hernandez’s reasons for balking at the requirement may be unusual (she believes the tracking is “Satanic”), many parents and students also contend that the practice is invasive and in violation of their rights. It all feels a little too creepily “Big Brother-ish” to lots of dissenters.
For their part, schools are embracing the GPS IDs because increased attendance means increased funding. Additionally, they claim that students’ “rights being violated” is inapplicable since the students are under age. Moreover, there are voices on all sides, parents, teachers, administrators, and students, who argue that there should be nothing to worry about and no objections…if your student (or you) are where they (or you) are supposed to be.
What do you think? Yes to chips or no? And why?
The ever-curious Brain Pickings yesterday shed light on a fascinating project, “Classroom Portraits.” Since 2004, photographer Julian Germain has captured images of classrooms the world over, progressing from his small corner of North East England to include schools from North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Collected in a new book, Germain’s photos provide unique insight into childhoods both familiar and foreign, sharing what makes schoolkids around the globe so similar, yet worlds apart.
Each photograph captures the same faces we’ve all seen in the classroom growing up: you have the bored and the enrapt, the angry and the apathetic, the eager and the daydreamers. Germain captures all of these and more in his trans-global portraits.
Yet, just as these photos begin to hark back to one’s own school days, you come across a classroom like the one snapped in Yemen, below. A small room packed with serious-looking men, the only thing belying their young age the dark but faint peach fuzz atop each one’s upper lip.
Flipping past the slightly militaristic uniforms of a class of Peruvian 4th-graders…
to a colorfully Havanan classroom…
and a stark Nigerian one…
you are reminded that this (I’m presuming for most of you) is not the childhood you remember.
But while the environments and languages might not be the same, it’s always easy to spot some common ground: in one image a band of sulky pubescents, in another a mob of sticky-fingered kindergartners, and in all the compulsory child with the mischievous glint in his eye, the one who is certainly up to no good at all.
In each photo Germain has also managed to evoke the gang-like quality found in a room full of students. He positions them with their eyes locked on the camera, staring it down as though ready to pounce at any given moment. Perhaps the one similarity we should be mindful of in every classroom is the courage it takes to stand up in front of a room of these creatures and teach them.
No, in all seriousness “Classroom Portraits” is a joyful reminder of the many fresh young minds out there in the world, and the importance a good education serves in shaping every one of them.