Gutting literature from the curriculum

Educational reform efforts in the public schools are generally well-intentioned, but once they are taken over by the educational bureaucrats they often achieve the opposite of what was intended.  A commendable concern to ensure that students have learned something from the classes they take, that they achieve certain “learning outcomes,” gave us the dumbing down of “Outcome based education.”  The “No Child Left Behind” program left behind whole schools.

The latest reform program being foisted on all public schools is “The Common Core.”  That derives from a great idea, having students learn a basic foundation of material, including reading key books.  In practice, though, the Common Core is resulting in literature being gutted from the English curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

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.

Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration. . . .

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said. . . .

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

via Common Core State Standards in English spark war over words – The Washington Post.

So the idea is that science and other subjects would include reading in those areas.  Great idea.  But because the administrators also are not very good readers and because no one but English teachers want to require reading, the burden of requiring 70% “informational” reading is falling on English teachers,who must make room for it by cutting out literature.  So instead of reading Old Man and the Sea, students have to read “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Give it ten years and it will swing back to fiction.

    This happens so often in modern education that it’s sickening. When I first started teaching in my current district, we had a fifteen minute sustained silent reading (SSR) time. Then we did away with it because science and math were being forgotten. Now, with the emphasis on literacy, guess what we’ve put back in place?

    I’m so glad God gave me the opportunity to teach foreign language and not a core subject.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Give it ten years and it will swing back to fiction.

    This happens so often in modern education that it’s sickening. When I first started teaching in my current district, we had a fifteen minute sustained silent reading (SSR) time. Then we did away with it because science and math were being forgotten. Now, with the emphasis on literacy, guess what we’ve put back in place?

    I’m so glad God gave me the opportunity to teach foreign language and not a core subject.

  • Dan VU

    Our Christian High School has adopted the Common Core textbooks for English here in Michigan. As an American literature teacher, I am not impressed with these books.

    There is clearly an effort to include historical nonfiction texts and visual aides, and, it is true, much of the canon of American literature is missing.

    However, my greatest disappointment with the textbooks is an obvious attempt to incorporate politically correct materials. For example, John Smith’s A GENERAL HISTORY OF VIRGINIA (traditionally the beginning of American literature in 1607) is missing. Instead, we have three Native American Indian origin legends.

    This is a reminder to all of us teachers that WE direct our students; the textbook is merely a tool in order to assist our instruction.

  • Dan VU

    Our Christian High School has adopted the Common Core textbooks for English here in Michigan. As an American literature teacher, I am not impressed with these books.

    There is clearly an effort to include historical nonfiction texts and visual aides, and, it is true, much of the canon of American literature is missing.

    However, my greatest disappointment with the textbooks is an obvious attempt to incorporate politically correct materials. For example, John Smith’s A GENERAL HISTORY OF VIRGINIA (traditionally the beginning of American literature in 1607) is missing. Instead, we have three Native American Indian origin legends.

    This is a reminder to all of us teachers that WE direct our students; the textbook is merely a tool in order to assist our instruction.

  • Kathy

    As a home-educator, I have noted that fiction allows students to see and discuss various aspects of the human condition, beyond the students’ experiences. Through the years, my boys and I have had numerous discussions about fictional situations, and we still do.

    In reading The Merchant of Venice, we had a discussion question, “Can a person be made to be a Christian as a punishment?” Shylock, the Jewish merchant, was so punished in that play.

    On numerous occasions, during read-alouds, I have not been able to read the text without choking-up, due to the emotional nature of the story. And, I spent 5 years in the Marine Corps.

    Finally, reading and discussing fiction is also an aid in understanding the depth and richness of Scripture. And, lest anyone think that homeschoolers are mostly into humanities, my two oldest sons, now in college, are focusing on the sciences, but love and value literature.

  • Kathy

    As a home-educator, I have noted that fiction allows students to see and discuss various aspects of the human condition, beyond the students’ experiences. Through the years, my boys and I have had numerous discussions about fictional situations, and we still do.

    In reading The Merchant of Venice, we had a discussion question, “Can a person be made to be a Christian as a punishment?” Shylock, the Jewish merchant, was so punished in that play.

    On numerous occasions, during read-alouds, I have not been able to read the text without choking-up, due to the emotional nature of the story. And, I spent 5 years in the Marine Corps.

    Finally, reading and discussing fiction is also an aid in understanding the depth and richness of Scripture. And, lest anyone think that homeschoolers are mostly into humanities, my two oldest sons, now in college, are focusing on the sciences, but love and value literature.

  • Orianna Laun

    As an English teacher, this bothers me. As someone who struggled in college to pass the required science courses because the readings from the scientific journals were a challenge, this sounds like a great idea. We won’t even discuss the readings for the philosophy unit in high school.
    There is a need to have the ability to read nonfiction. It is necessary. The problem is twofold. English teachers, everyone assumes, are the only teachers who can assign reading, therefore the English teacher must do it. The other problem is that all the teachers’ class time is piled up with other demands. The teachers have run out of time to teach their own subject, let alone add more to what they teach. What if the schools added a nonfiction literature class to the curriculum and dropped something that they taught which the school shouldn’t have to teach because that should be done at home by their parents? Or take all the time away from teaching the students how to take standardized tests.

  • Orianna Laun

    As an English teacher, this bothers me. As someone who struggled in college to pass the required science courses because the readings from the scientific journals were a challenge, this sounds like a great idea. We won’t even discuss the readings for the philosophy unit in high school.
    There is a need to have the ability to read nonfiction. It is necessary. The problem is twofold. English teachers, everyone assumes, are the only teachers who can assign reading, therefore the English teacher must do it. The other problem is that all the teachers’ class time is piled up with other demands. The teachers have run out of time to teach their own subject, let alone add more to what they teach. What if the schools added a nonfiction literature class to the curriculum and dropped something that they taught which the school shouldn’t have to teach because that should be done at home by their parents? Or take all the time away from teaching the students how to take standardized tests.

  • Katie

    This is just disheartening… I pray we can continue to have the freedom to homeschool our children so they won’t have to be the ginuea pigs of this idea. We need fiction as part of our learning! Great post Kathy @3!

  • Katie

    This is just disheartening… I pray we can continue to have the freedom to homeschool our children so they won’t have to be the ginuea pigs of this idea. We need fiction as part of our learning! Great post Kathy @3!

  • Spaulding

    What would you expect. If we allow the kids to read fiction we foster creativity and independent thought and you know how much our liberal “elite” and Madison Avenue masters want that. They just want an generation that will mindlessly regurgitate what has been force fed to them and with Madison Avenue to buy more crap that they don’t need and can’t afford.

  • Spaulding

    What would you expect. If we allow the kids to read fiction we foster creativity and independent thought and you know how much our liberal “elite” and Madison Avenue masters want that. They just want an generation that will mindlessly regurgitate what has been force fed to them and with Madison Avenue to buy more crap that they don’t need and can’t afford.

  • SKPeterson

    I will say that from my own experience in front of the classroom that there is great value in being able to read non-fiction and being able to understand philosophical or scientific writing, but it should be done in the classroom. I find at the college level, that many students are woefully unprepared for reading basic academic journal articles, or discussing the themes in them. I will also say, that many of these students also do not write very well and cannot express themselves adequately by writing. In my opinion, this is directly related to what is a de-emphasis of reading about, writing upon, and the analysis of, fiction and poetry. Those provide the basics for understanding language and form across genres, which translates into understanding how the basics of literature and the themes of literature inform and reflect scientific, philosophical, and theological writings.

  • SKPeterson

    I will say that from my own experience in front of the classroom that there is great value in being able to read non-fiction and being able to understand philosophical or scientific writing, but it should be done in the classroom. I find at the college level, that many students are woefully unprepared for reading basic academic journal articles, or discussing the themes in them. I will also say, that many of these students also do not write very well and cannot express themselves adequately by writing. In my opinion, this is directly related to what is a de-emphasis of reading about, writing upon, and the analysis of, fiction and poetry. Those provide the basics for understanding language and form across genres, which translates into understanding how the basics of literature and the themes of literature inform and reflect scientific, philosophical, and theological writings.

  • Tom Hering

    … you know how much our liberal “elite” … want that. (@ 6)

    Funny, but the Common Core is based on the ideas of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., who has long been an opponent of the anti-curriculum, “creativity and independent thinking” approach to education, championed by Dewey and the Progressives. Oh well, whatever’s wrong, it must be the fault of liberals and liberal thinking, right?

  • Tom Hering

    … you know how much our liberal “elite” … want that. (@ 6)

    Funny, but the Common Core is based on the ideas of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., who has long been an opponent of the anti-curriculum, “creativity and independent thinking” approach to education, championed by Dewey and the Progressives. Oh well, whatever’s wrong, it must be the fault of liberals and liberal thinking, right?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m beginning to think education, like the Catechism, has to start at home, whether or not your kids are in public or private school or home schooled. I don’t get my boy often enough, but when I have him I try to find books to read with him. Kindle has helped this quite a bit, especially when reading during our camping trips. I’m often though surprised at what he can’t pick up on, and what he does pick up on. a year ago his teacher remarked that “Call of the Wild” was way beyond his grade level. Third grade. I thought that odd. He struggled with “Treasure Island.” But over thanksgiving break, for some odd reason, I decided to read “Old Man and the Sea” with him and he absolutely loved it. SO I had to comment on this seeing that “Old Man and the Sea” was one of the examples.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m beginning to think education, like the Catechism, has to start at home, whether or not your kids are in public or private school or home schooled. I don’t get my boy often enough, but when I have him I try to find books to read with him. Kindle has helped this quite a bit, especially when reading during our camping trips. I’m often though surprised at what he can’t pick up on, and what he does pick up on. a year ago his teacher remarked that “Call of the Wild” was way beyond his grade level. Third grade. I thought that odd. He struggled with “Treasure Island.” But over thanksgiving break, for some odd reason, I decided to read “Old Man and the Sea” with him and he absolutely loved it. SO I had to comment on this seeing that “Old Man and the Sea” was one of the examples.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom @ 8,
    It’s hard to believe you have figured out that everything wrong is caused by liberals, and yet insist on being a liberal.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom @ 8,
    It’s hard to believe you have figured out that everything wrong is caused by liberals, and yet insist on being a liberal.

  • Random Lutheran

    It’s interesting how many high school literature classes seem designed to make kids hate literature and reading — they force twaddle like Steinbeck on people, as well as Dickens’ poorer efforts, terrible Victorian poetry, even worse near-contemporary poetry, and the like. These new efforts seem to be an advance on the old ones: make them hate words by making them read government publications. Our schools have been turned into serf factories. Buy real books; put them in your children’s hands, and talk about the books with your children. Their teachers will hate you for it (as they will make their jobs more difficult, what with asking questions and the like about the texts), but your children will at least have a fighting chance to have a future.

  • Random Lutheran

    It’s interesting how many high school literature classes seem designed to make kids hate literature and reading — they force twaddle like Steinbeck on people, as well as Dickens’ poorer efforts, terrible Victorian poetry, even worse near-contemporary poetry, and the like. These new efforts seem to be an advance on the old ones: make them hate words by making them read government publications. Our schools have been turned into serf factories. Buy real books; put them in your children’s hands, and talk about the books with your children. Their teachers will hate you for it (as they will make their jobs more difficult, what with asking questions and the like about the texts), but your children will at least have a fighting chance to have a future.

  • Joe

    Another great example of why education curriculum should not be centrally directed by the federal gov’t. One bad idea screws up every school.

  • Joe

    Another great example of why education curriculum should not be centrally directed by the federal gov’t. One bad idea screws up every school.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Actually, J Dean has it right. The field of education suffers from waves of fashion.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Actually, J Dean has it right. The field of education suffers from waves of fashion.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I’m kind of scratching my head here. The only thing that makes non-fiction hard to read is tech and scientific writing kill any sense of imaginative communication. In short, it’s boring and that is saying something because I love the subjects.

    Personally, the problem is that many science teachers have no experience themselves with scientific literature. Most science teachers I have come across are education majors who took a few introductory science classes in college which are little different from grade school classes as they are merely survey classes and usually taught by the prof who couldn’t get out of it. Which generally means they are never introduced to peer-reviewed journals. And this translates into not seeing their value and thus they see no reason to expose young students to them. So we end up with teachers who are wedded to their textbooks completely dependent upon their limited scope and little understanding of how science actually works. It would help, I think, if the teachers themselves understood the material and have had to delve into the world of research articles. Then maybe they would understand the value of teaching from the peer-reviewed journals of their various subjects.

    In retrospect it is likely the reason I find peer-review easy to read is that I have been reading them since the 8th grade.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I’m kind of scratching my head here. The only thing that makes non-fiction hard to read is tech and scientific writing kill any sense of imaginative communication. In short, it’s boring and that is saying something because I love the subjects.

    Personally, the problem is that many science teachers have no experience themselves with scientific literature. Most science teachers I have come across are education majors who took a few introductory science classes in college which are little different from grade school classes as they are merely survey classes and usually taught by the prof who couldn’t get out of it. Which generally means they are never introduced to peer-reviewed journals. And this translates into not seeing their value and thus they see no reason to expose young students to them. So we end up with teachers who are wedded to their textbooks completely dependent upon their limited scope and little understanding of how science actually works. It would help, I think, if the teachers themselves understood the material and have had to delve into the world of research articles. Then maybe they would understand the value of teaching from the peer-reviewed journals of their various subjects.

    In retrospect it is likely the reason I find peer-review easy to read is that I have been reading them since the 8th grade.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I think that a telling comment from Dr. Veith is that the administrators charged with implementing this may be misinterpreting the intent and perhaps substituting some of their own agenda. One of the worst developments in public education over the last 40 years is the proliferation of administrative positions. Per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted constant dollars over the past 40 years has more than doubled, yet student performance and classroom teacher compensation has been basically flat (actually classroom teacher compensation has gone up slightly, but that is mainly a function of increased health care costs). Where has the rest of that money gone? To administration, technology, buildings, curriculum and whatever the latest educational fad that comes along dictates….

    By the time these well-meaning federal dictates make their way to the classroom, they have passed through so many bean counter and bureaucrat hands that they are scarcely recognizable.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I think that a telling comment from Dr. Veith is that the administrators charged with implementing this may be misinterpreting the intent and perhaps substituting some of their own agenda. One of the worst developments in public education over the last 40 years is the proliferation of administrative positions. Per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted constant dollars over the past 40 years has more than doubled, yet student performance and classroom teacher compensation has been basically flat (actually classroom teacher compensation has gone up slightly, but that is mainly a function of increased health care costs). Where has the rest of that money gone? To administration, technology, buildings, curriculum and whatever the latest educational fad that comes along dictates….

    By the time these well-meaning federal dictates make their way to the classroom, they have passed through so many bean counter and bureaucrat hands that they are scarcely recognizable.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 Knowing a few people in education administration, I can say there is a strong correlation between “well-meaning federal dictates” and expanding administrations. When ever the feds get involved the amount of administrative work required triples and that is just the paperwork.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 Knowing a few people in education administration, I can say there is a strong correlation between “well-meaning federal dictates” and expanding administrations. When ever the feds get involved the amount of administrative work required triples and that is just the paperwork.

  • DonS

    I agree with the comments above putting much of the blame on the federal government involving itself in an area in which it has no business. Public education is a local issue, and the curriculum should be designed by local school districts, in conjunction with the parents.

  • DonS

    I agree with the comments above putting much of the blame on the federal government involving itself in an area in which it has no business. Public education is a local issue, and the curriculum should be designed by local school districts, in conjunction with the parents.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    There is a connection here: The “waves of fashion” often has to do with administrators looking for something “cooler”. And, the amount of ignorance wrt their own subject areas, from sub-educated teachers, is often astounding. Unfortunately, this is no different in many private schools.

    At the same time though, there are excellent teachers around. And, to be honest, they are often the ones suffering the most.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    There is a connection here: The “waves of fashion” often has to do with administrators looking for something “cooler”. And, the amount of ignorance wrt their own subject areas, from sub-educated teachers, is often astounding. Unfortunately, this is no different in many private schools.

    At the same time though, there are excellent teachers around. And, to be honest, they are often the ones suffering the most.

  • Kathy

    Thanks, Katie @5; nice to have that homeschool support!

    SKPeterson @7 – I agree. Reading literature gives students a basis for thinking, analyzing, writing…and that translates into other disciplines. I have found that educators like to push writing early, way before students can form their own thoughts and opinions.

    Dr. Luther @14 – My educational approach has always been to supplement textbooks with other materials, especially in science and history. Oldest son, now in physics PHD program, said he wanted textbooks for Christmas…realize that “textbooks” for PHD isn’t the same as conventional texts.

  • Kathy

    Thanks, Katie @5; nice to have that homeschool support!

    SKPeterson @7 – I agree. Reading literature gives students a basis for thinking, analyzing, writing…and that translates into other disciplines. I have found that educators like to push writing early, way before students can form their own thoughts and opinions.

    Dr. Luther @14 – My educational approach has always been to supplement textbooks with other materials, especially in science and history. Oldest son, now in physics PHD program, said he wanted textbooks for Christmas…realize that “textbooks” for PHD isn’t the same as conventional texts.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#19 Your son has expensive tastes. ;) I know what those books can cost. Being a vet. pathology grad student was cheaper. We just had to have lots of pocket change to make photocopies of journal articles.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#19 Your son has expensive tastes. ;) I know what those books can cost. Being a vet. pathology grad student was cheaper. We just had to have lots of pocket change to make photocopies of journal articles.

  • SKPeterson

    Kathy – Get the list of books from your son and then go to Addall.com to do your shopping. I did it when working on my PhD and I probably shaved a cool $500+ off my “textbook” costs. The nice thing (I suppose it is nice) is that you generally keep PhD texts, so they’ll be a long-term investment for your son for quite awhile.

  • SKPeterson

    Kathy – Get the list of books from your son and then go to Addall.com to do your shopping. I did it when working on my PhD and I probably shaved a cool $500+ off my “textbook” costs. The nice thing (I suppose it is nice) is that you generally keep PhD texts, so they’ll be a long-term investment for your son for quite awhile.

  • Tom Hering

    It’s hard to believe you have figured out that everything wrong is caused by liberals, and yet insist on being a liberal. (@ 10)

    Pastor Bror, I thought everything wrong is caused by sinners. Which I do indeed insist I am. ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    It’s hard to believe you have figured out that everything wrong is caused by liberals, and yet insist on being a liberal. (@ 10)

    Pastor Bror, I thought everything wrong is caused by sinners. Which I do indeed insist I am. ;-)

  • SKPeterson

    Liberals are just better sinners, Tom. Cuz them’s wronger more offen.

  • SKPeterson

    Liberals are just better sinners, Tom. Cuz them’s wronger more offen.

  • Tom Hering

    Ah, so liberals necessarily receive more grace. Cool.

  • Tom Hering

    Ah, so liberals necessarily receive more grace. Cool.

  • http://pekoponian.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Tom, should we sin that grace may abound? By no means! :)

  • http://pekoponian.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Tom, should we sin that grace may abound? By no means! :)

  • kerner

    @24:

    Be liberal boldly, Tom. ;)

  • kerner

    @24:

    Be liberal boldly, Tom. ;)

  • Franz Cox

    Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. IS Pure Fiction… I tend to agree with the idea of reading more non-fiction. There are many books on History, Biographies that would make excellent reading for our children… I could make a long list from my own library and it would contribute to the students education and understanding of the world. I do not oppose this idea… what I do oppose is the Federal Government being involved in education…read the Constitution, nowhere does it say the Federal Government will run education…it leaves that to the states…

  • Franz Cox

    Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. IS Pure Fiction… I tend to agree with the idea of reading more non-fiction. There are many books on History, Biographies that would make excellent reading for our children… I could make a long list from my own library and it would contribute to the students education and understanding of the world. I do not oppose this idea… what I do oppose is the Federal Government being involved in education…read the Constitution, nowhere does it say the Federal Government will run education…it leaves that to the states…

  • Pingback: More on the gutting of literature from the curriculum

  • Pingback: More on the gutting of literature from the curriculum


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X