Reading Curriculum Changes: More Non-Fiction

I’m a non-fiction reader, but not reading To Kill a Mockingbird? Very Sad:

“American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014. A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.

Books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards.

Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council. The new educational standards have the backing of the influential National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Luke Allison

    These feels like Dickens’ Hard Times. There are some ironies present here, if you can find them.

    Are we going to resurrect brutalist architecture too???

  • phil_style

    Education is now nothing more than a sausage machine making labour for the market.

  • Paul

    As an 8th grade teacher, I can see why they would make this change…students really struggle with reading nonfiction (read textbook) material. That being said, I doubt the real root of the issue is a lack of exposure to nonfiction reading and therefore the solution of reading more instructional texts seems to be the wrong solution.

  • http://www.carisadel.com Caris Adel

    “American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.” I absolutely thought this was an article from the Onion. Are you $%$^%$^ me??? I can’t even coherently come up with anything to say to this. This makes me so upset.

  • http://kidminandculture.com Henry Zonio

    So only those who live in privileges areas or can afford to send children to private or supplementary education will be able to experience art and literature. Everyone else is on a fast track to being trained workers. Gotta keep that capitalist machine moving, right? Once again, children get exploited.

  • LeslieS.

    Reading informational text is part of the reading curriculum, not the whole curriculum. One of the items my reading of the Common Core emphasizes is that reading is not limited to the English classroom but also includes history, science, and other core subjects. Check out out Common Core for yourself to read the standards for information text (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/11-12) and literature (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12).

  • Adam Murray

    There is no way this is not an Onion article.

  • Kim Hampton

    In the rush to make everybody an engineer or doctor or computer scientist, people have forgotten that the humanities (arts/music/literature/history/etc.) are important too.

    “To Kill A Mockingbird” is my favorite book in the entire world. Doing a paper on the theological significance of Calpurnia’s (mostly) silence that I hope to present next year at the American Academy of Religion meeting.

  • Larry Barber

    I would think there would be enough non-fiction reading in science, history and other fact based courses. Of course given the way curriculum standards are going and the political pressure from right to include junk like creationism and fictive versions of America’s founding, maybe the history and biology books can be counted as fiction.

    I would agree with Phil (#2), but the schools don’t even appear to be doing a good job of being industrial sausage factories.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Wow. Doesn’t sound very smart to me. What a loss to go through school and never be exposed to these great and significant works.

  • NateW

    So upsetting. I never had to read To Kill a Mockingbird in school. My wife mad eme read it last year. I would have been a better person for having read it earlier.

    Great fiction is MORE true and of MORE use in the workplace than scientific information.

    That this entire election sometimes seemed to be about the unemployment rate. We’re asking for this in so many ways. We have the government we deserve.

  • LisaH

    Larry (#9), that’s the point. There is a lot of non-fiction in science and history. Those teachers are supposed to now be teaching students HOW to read the non-fiction texts. Reading and understanding is slightly different for each discipline, and the new standards asks teachers to all teach students how to read in their discipline. When it says non-fiction should be 70% of what students read, that means what they read all day at school, not what they read only in English class. What the standards are trying to do is not to decrease fiction reading, but to increase non-fiction reading.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    A lot of the movement is to try to integrate curriculum across subject areas. So English teachers are encouraged to teach reading using texts that are relevent to science or social studies.

  • http://www.samochstein.blogspot.com Sam Ochstein

    My wife is an English professor at a Christian liberal arts college and it just so happens that her area of specialization is non-fiction (i.e. Creative Non-Fiction). I don’t believe her idea of “good” non-ficiton includes the kind of books this new curriculum, and neither does mine. What Phil above said seems right to me–education (including high school and to a larger and larger extent college) has become a machine to equip people with “practical” skills for the workplace. Even in my own graduate work in theology and ministry it was common to hear some students complain that a book or assignment was “irrelevant” to real life and ministry. Whatever happened to the idea that being educated and having the ability to think critically about big ideas and important issues was simply an intrinsically good thing, whether or not it had more pragmatic ends (which, of course, it seems to me invariably does). Perhaps we should revisit the famous graduation speech by Neil Postman on the Atheniens and the Visigoths and give careful thought to our ways.

  • Brandon

    Scot,
    Didn’t you post not too long ago the power that a good story and fiction has on learning?

    It would be interesting to see how those writing the curriculum would respond to this research.

  • Brandon

    Ahhh…
    It’s linked on this page under “you might also like”

  • Holly

    One of my best moments in 15 years of homeschooling came when I took my son to (a Christian) college this fall, and we sat thru the introduction to his Core class. (For this particular college the Core works on integrating Christian faith with lots of reading with practical application from the four pillars of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Interpret that to mean they read the Bible, lots of classics, and they build a house for Habitat for Humanity.) One of the assigned books was a book I had already made my son read his junior year of high school. I felt so ahead of the curve! :)

    I appreciate the freedom to assign my students a WIDE VARIETY of books and articles and even blogs to read. We homeschoolers can be an odd lot at times, and although we can be really testy about protecting our freedom to make these decisions for our students – I am really, really grateful for this liberty that we have. See, I wouldn’t remove fiction from our curriculum. I’d just add other readings in. No need to limit! :)

  • Holly

    The above mentioned would be David Kinnamon’s book, “UnChristian.”

  • http://robsownworld.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    The linked page on non-fiction(History/Social Studies >> Grades 11-12) references The Federalist Papers, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, the Declaration of Independence, and (other) “foundational documents.” Where did the Telegraph come up with the Invasive Plant Inventory?

  • http://annsphillips.wordpress.com Ann Phillips

    How on earth could boring kids to death with technical manuals help their reading ability? They will read less, not more!

  • EZK

    This post is a totally biased and untrue– obviously written by someone afraid of the CCSS and only has heard rumors about it. In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird is listed in Appendix B of the CCSS list of exemplar texts.

    FYI-I write and edit elementary Reading textbooks, so I am an authority on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how it will impact education.

    The reason for the CCSS is that high school students reach college totally unprepared for the rigor and complexity of the texts required in college courses. Just think about the gap between what is required for high school students to read independently and what is required for college students to read independently. The CCSS attempts to fix that problem by requiring more complex texts being read at younger and younger grades to bridge the gap.

    The main point of the literature recommendations in CCSS is that students are reading too much low level text that is not authentic. They are addressing the problem of Leveled Readers, which gives students success in reading, but doesn’t stretch their reading skills. Leveled Readers are written specifically for a theme, using specific vocabulary, and at a specific reading level: they are not authentic.

    Yes, the texts teachers use are supposed to have more nonfiction than in the past, but the point is that they are authentic nonfiction, which is why they list strange examples such as the Plant Inventory. Good literature is not supposed to be replaced, it is encouraged.

    If you want good information, then read the Publisher’s Criteria, which the CCSS authors have written to explain to Publishers (like me) how to change the curriculum. It’s the thought process behind the CCSS.

  • Holly

    This is probably not necessary to say (although I’ll say it anyway…)

    Isn’t the concept of education of the masses using a standardized curriculum for the purpose of producing carbon-copy, more easily controlled workers more of a socialist or communist type of thing (as opposed to capitalistic?) It seems to me that capitalism would encourage more free-thinking, more individualism, more ingenuity, more breaking-free-of-the-ranks type of education. Capitalism seems to encourage less control by teacher’s unions and more of the school choice type of educational philosophies.

    EZK, I appreciate your comment – it helps us all to understand what’s really behind the new standards.

  • Holly

    The whole concept of Level Readers is anathema to me. For starters, they only provide snippets of stories and not the entire book. Kids aren’t allowed to get the whole story, nor to follow the flow of the book from beginning to end. My 10 year old finished the four book set of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Trilogy just today. Once begun, he just couldn’t put them down. His excitement led his 8 year old brother to pick up the Hobbit for himself, and prompted his 14 year old sister to begin rereading. That would never have happened if he’d been given a snippet of the story in a book of compiled readings. Oh, the books we can read and the places we can go…..just another reason I love home educating! :)

  • EZK

    Hi Holly!
    I have to point out that what you are describing is an anthology textbook, which contains excerpts or chapters of books and not the whole book (though younger graders usually can use the whole picture book and not an excerpt). That is a different issue than Leveled Readers : )
    Leveled Readers have at least 3 different versions–one for low readers, one for on-level readers, and one for advanced. They are written on the same topic or based on the same theme. They are printed books, but they are not trade books (you couldn’t buy them at Barnes and Noble) and are meant for instruction.

    I once edited a Leveled Reader about corn, and the last line was “Corn helps everyone” and I felt sad for the children who would be forced to read that book.

    I am a literature lover, and I think kids benefit from having a printed trade book in their hands. CCSS encourages using trade books and not excerpts and not leveled readers, which is one reason I am a fan and feel compelled to combat false information.

    Congrats on home educating–that makes you a woman of valor ;)

  • EZK

    This article is so misleading and it’s driving me crazy!

    “American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.” This is not true. There is a long list of American literature classics that are recommended (and are not required, just used as examples) by the Common Core standards, and they include To Kill a Mockingbird on that list!

    see http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf

    “A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction” This is also not true. In high-school, nonfiction should be 70% of what students read, which includes all subjects, not just books studied in English or literature class. In elementary, it’s 50% of ALL text that students read. Also, states have the option to not follow the CCSS (and only 4 states chose not to).

    ” in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.” This is BS. The point of CCSS is to close the gap between the level of texts that high school students are required to read and understand and the level of text that college students are required to read and understand. The point is to get students ready for college.

    Here’s a better article that address concerns and misreadings or misapplications of the standards http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/common-core-nonfiction-reading-standards_n_2271229.html?ir=Education

  • Holly

    I stand corrected, EZK! Thanks for the info! :) I find a lot of anthologies for children, then, at places that sell used books. They make me a little sad, and remind me of circle time when I was a little girl. We’d read around the circle, and get to read a sentence or two, each, from the day’s story. I was gluttonous – wanted to read the whole thing! :)

  • Jag

    The article is nothing but a troll at worst, rhetoric at best, as posters above have pointed out.

    Reading and writing non-fiction — eg business memos, technical reports, financial analysis — is the backbone of the workplace and our economy, and a skill that is essential to success at many careers, yet we tend to see it as inferior or secondary to fiction. Learning to understand facts, analyze them and write a clear, succinct, analysis of a business problem that will influence others to grab hold of one’s ideas is of greater value to a student than analyzing the themes at work in Catcher in the Rye or the Hobbit, I’m afraid.

    For example, despite the importance of it in the current fiscal debates in D.C., how many Americans understand or even care to understand the simple differences between supply-side and demand-side economics? Our culture is biased toward consuming fiction over fact, whether that be song lyrics, best sellers, movies, or what-have-you.


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