Common Core

One year ago, the public debate over the new Common Core standards in education centered on the fate of literature in English classes.

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May 13, 2017 – Online MCAT CARS Practice

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One year ago, the public debate over the new Common Core standards in education centered on the fate of literature in English classes.

Critics charged that the standards risked crowding out high-quality fiction, poetry, theater and other imaginative texts. They overemphasized nonfictional, information-rich prose, they argued, and required no British literature except one play by Shakespeare.

Defenders of Common Core responded that nothing in the standards would prevent teachers from exposing students to as many novels and poems as before, and they pointed to Common Core’s list of “text examplars,” which include dozens of literary classics.

The defenders of the new standards won that round. But materials recently produced by the New York City Department of Education give fresh reason to revive the argument. In short, there is now very good reason to worry that the coming of the Common Core may produce a widespread deemphasis and devaluation of some of the greatest books ever written in the English language.

The city’s “Tasks, Units & Student Work” Web page, a resource for principals, teachers and parents, promises to offer “a growing assortment of Common Core-aligned tasks, units and student work.”

If you check the boxes for ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, then select “English Language Arts/Literacy” and click “Search,” 13 recommended units of study come up. These are multiweek lessons on a particular theme, event, idea, text or topic.

Each unit also lines up with specific English Language Arts standards in Common Core. (A few of them also appear under “History/Social Studies” and “Science,” but their presence under ELA means that they have been deemed appropriate for English.)

It takes only a few seconds to see the problem. In all these materials, only three literary works appear — “Romeo and Juliet,” T.S. Eliot’s haunting poem “The Hollow Men” and a short poem about Gandhi by Langston Hughes.

Meanwhile, the site offers units on DNA and crime detection, “vertical farming,” digital media, European imperialism, great speeches and two on the civil rights movement.

The assigned texts include a speech by Bill Clinton, a Los Angeles Times story on teens and social media, the “Complete Personal Finance Guidebook,” photographs by Walker Evans and an entry on imperialism in the New Book of Knowledge.

Even when a topic is disposed to abundant and superb literary works, the Education Department has failed to include them. The unit on “Rites of Passage” — supposedly to be used in English classes — doesn’t opt for great tales of youth and adulthood such as “Jane Eyre,” “The Red Badge of Courage” or Richard Wright’s “Almos’ a Man.”

Instead, it chooses 10 pieces on teen rituals from The New York Times, USA Today, Fox Business, NPR and other news outlets.

This is not what the architects and contributors had in mind when they crafted the ELA standards. (Disclosure: I served on the English Language Arts “Feedback Committee” for the Council of Chief State School Officers.) The push for informational texts was not supposed to displace outstanding literary texts.

Rather, it answered the call for more general background knowledge, more broad familiarity with history, science, art and ideas — all of which would, among other things, enhance literary study.

In fact, the Common Core standards explicitly set a high bar of literary history, stating that students will “demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature.”

According to the units rolled out so far by the city’s Education Department, that standard doesn’t even exist.

Curriculum designers at the agency are interpreting the new English standards in exactly the direction critics warned of last year. With the exception of the “Romeo and Juliet” unit, they apparently envision English as a social studies class, not a language and literature class. And the Common Core itself does not contain enough machinery to restrain them.

If the city wants to be fully consistent with the spirit of Common Core, and if it wants to serve the thousands of English teachers who entered the field because they love Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, not news reports and science tracts, the department will produce five more units on “The American Short Story From Poe to the Present,” “The Romantic Poets” and other literary subjects.

Literature is not a second-class subject. It ought to be at the very center of a high-quality public education.

Adapted from nydailynews.

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This was an article on Education.

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Jack Westin
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21 Comments


  1. Literature ought to be the focus of english classes (interestingly, the author does not provide any argument to support this, apparently he or she thinks that it is self evident). Common core standards are designed in a way that emphasizes written works related to social studies rather than the classics of literature.

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  2. Literature is key for education. There is a debate between common core and critics regarding if literature is being deemphasized in common core curriculum.

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  3. author thinks positive about literature.
    literature = lead to high quality of education.
    oppose Common Core.
    new Common Core emphases on nonfictional and potentially can emphasize literatures.

    Reply

  4. literature good quality of education. and author does not like the common core.

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  5. Common core ==> English classes = social study classes =/= language and literature classes. Negative tone. The author does not like Common core.

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  6. To describe the debate about the fact that “The new Common Core standards do not meet the literary standards that has been set for English classes”

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  7. Common Core has made English Literature more about facts than imagination/interpretation
    Informational texts and literature are suppose to provide a general background and overall, enhance literary studies
    Instead, English Literature is undermined for more non-fictional texts.

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  8. literary standards are decreasing the amount of good literature being taught; change should occur to bring back outstanding literature

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    1. MIP: standards eliminate good lit; need more to it

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  9. common core vision ruined, literature should be basis of good education.

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  10. Common Core = displaced good literature books + focus on other subjects

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  11. English education has fallen away from the historical literature that provides a great education for our youth.

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  12. MI: CC=little lit in eng=/=orig purp; lit should b center of ed
    tone: + for lit

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  13. Purpose: to argue that the common core has failed to keep appropriate literary works in its curriculum and instead has incorporated contemporary works, which promote a social study like environment instead of english language arts.

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  14. Common Core = deemphasis of great lit; author = neg

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  15. common core = instead of using literatures, it uses nonfiction and social studies materials

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  16. The “Common Core” should try to restrict schools from choosing poor works of readings for students. Original purpose was to push for science, literature, history etc. Problems with how schools are teaching the students literature are discussed. Author has positive tone for literature, not so much media.

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  17. Theme: With the introduction of the new Common Core standards, there is a de-emphasis of literature in high schools which has led author to worry about the current predicament of literature as a subject (has taken a back seat and relegated to a second class subject). There is more emphasis on non-fictional work and students will not be exposed to great literary classics. No reason given for this paradigm shift in the system. Author does give recommendations to what can be done to salvage situation. (central)

    Although proponents of CC insinuate that teachers can still expose students to great literary works (list of “text exemplars”), the curriculum designed by NY Department of education doesn’t reflect this (takes only a few seconds…only three literary works appear….even when a topic is disposed to abundant and superb literary works…failed to include them…doesn’t opt for great tales..instead it chooses teen rituals from…other news outlets). More emphasis on non-fiction which “displace outstanding literary texts.”

    Testable: designers of ELA standards in the Common Core were not anticipating this move by curriculum planners at the schools (not what the architects and contributors had in mind) and they hoped that more general background knowledge will enhance literary study. Despite setting high standards in the CC, education department has frown upon the low literary standards of students. CC does nothing to mitigate this (not contain enough machinery to restrain them)

    Testable: know that author feels strongly that literature is not a second-rate subject and emphasis on literature is an indication of a high-quality public education. Any curriculum that includes classics will have attained this benchmark.

    Tone: Worrisome, concerned that changes made to the curriculum contrary to the recommendations by the CC will compromise the quality of education. Standards of CC not upheld and vision is lost.

    Reply

  18. Author against current Common Core English setup. Author has strong tone and thinks there needs to be a greater emphasis on literature than nonfictional news clippings.

    Reply

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