Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From Utah: What is Common Core?

 By Christel Lane Swasey



Common Core mandates that elementary students read no more than 50% classical/imaginative literature, making room for  more and more “informational texts” –and by twelfth grade, the percentage of allowable classic literature is further reduced– to only 30%.
Informational text has, prior to Common Core, been taught in history classes, journalism, science, or other disciplines.  Although Common Core’s creators, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have stated that the 70%-30% split has been misunderstood, and is to be across all disciplines (not just in English class) it seems that most English teachers didn’t get that memo.
Neither did the Utah State Office of Education, which says that under the new Core, schools will promote “more ‘informational’ text at every age and grade—text that gives information about the world rather than simply telling a story.”  That worries me.
Students are being pushed to write technically more than they are being inspired to write creatively.  Common Core-aligned assignments focus on increasing “informational” readings and writings, to the exclusion of the kinds of readings and writing assignments that inspire students love to read/write.
My bachelor’s degree is in English literature and my master’s degree in Communications focused on informational texts (ethnographic literary journalism) so I do value both classic and informational texts.  Still, the Common Core Initiative’s decreasing of classic/imaginative literature– or, if Pimentel and Coleman  are to be believed,  the Common Core’s redistribution of the responsibility of teaching English language arts across the subjects and classes  –either way, this is a dangerous transformation of American schools.
We become human by passing on our stories.  Souls are enlarged by their exposure to the characters, the imagery, the rich vocabulary, and the endless forms of the battle between good and evil, that happen in all classic literature. Classic stories create a love for books and reading that cannot be acquired in any other way.  Dickens, Shakespeare, Hugo, Orwell, Dickinson, Whitman, Dostoevsky, Rand, O’Connor, Dahl, Carroll, Marquez, Cisneros, Faulkner, Fitzgerald– where would we be without the gifts of these great writers and their writings? 
The sly and subtle change to education made by the Common Core Initiative, that cuts out so much to make room for informational texts, will have the same effect on our educational system and on our children as if Common Core had mandated the destruction of  a certain percentage of all classic literature.  How much does this differ from book burning in its ultimate effects?
While there are equally serious affonts by the Common Core to students in the diminishment of high quality math, my special passion is English and that’s why I mention it particularly here.

What is Common Core?

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