My book Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature has been re-issued in an updated format. The publishers, Crossway Books, asked me to write about the book for their blog, which I did. [Read more…]
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.
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.”
This is a topic that Lori Lewis asked me to address at her webzine Everyday Opera, trying to help people appreciate all the different literary styles:
“I can’t stand all of those flowery descriptions in classic literature. Why don’t the authors just get to the action?” “I don’t like opera with all of that over-the-top emotion.” “Those old writers are just not realistic!” Those are common complaints, but they deserve an answer.
First of all, literature is an art form that consists of language. Whereas a painter uses daubs of paint, an author uses daubs of words. Whereas a musical composer works with individual musical notes, working them together into complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies, an author creates the effects of a novel or a poem with individual words.
This is to say, an author can’t just “get to the action” because a story is not just a matter of action. It’s words. Plays, including the dramatic production that is a movie, do consist of action. But even a visualized story generally depends on the language of dialogue, which actors use to create their characters. Purists who want only action might restrict themselves to silent movies. But even silent movies—as with all dramatic scripts—have to be written.
Words are multi-dimensional and can create an infinite number of effects–including the illusion that the words are doing nothing. Those who are impatient with “style” often don’t realize that “realism” is also a style.
Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days? But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?
I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21. The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith. The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).
You can sign up for the conference here. The following are the speakers and the topics. Go here for a schedule of the actual times. (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.) Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.
Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual
Online Apologetics Conference
Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith
President of the American Chesterton Society
Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak
An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)
April 19th, 20th, and 21st, 2012.
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ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!
2012 Conference Goals:
- Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
- Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
- Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
- Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
- Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
- Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
- Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.
ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years. The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview. Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics. The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.
On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval). Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary. Note: all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public! Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.
Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)
- Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society. “Finding the Right Word: Chesterton on the Writer’s Art.”
- Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
- Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ: Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
- Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O’Connor].”
- Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
- Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
- Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
- Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
- Paul Nowak, author. “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk’s original short story “Fight Club” (later a novel and movie by the same title)].
Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)
- Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
- Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
- James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions. “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
- Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
- Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
- Mark Riser, apologist. “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
- Tom Gilson, apologist. “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
- Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
- Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. ” CSI: Golgotha”
- Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author. “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”