I keep asking teachers what they think of the Common Core. The best I hear is some version of “possibly or probably beneficial in the long-run.” When I ask about the Core’s impact on classroom environment, conversation turns more negative. In particular, English teachers express doubts about the heavy emphasis on nonfiction literature in the Core. We are skewing America away from the literary classics and toward how-to reading and writing, preparing our high school students to become technical writers rather than classical scholars.
If employability is the yardstick by which we measure academic content, then the shift to nonfiction makes a certain amount of sense. But as I talk to high school English teachers about the Core materials shift, we share a concern that many rich, descriptive literary words found in fiction never cross over into works of nonfiction. How many times will the SAT have to dumb itself down to keep up with our less and less verbally-adroit students?
More importantly, what about breadth, and learning for the sake of learning? Do we want excellence or employable conformity? Concepts like honesty, honor, courage, imagination, creativity and integrity are slighted in nonfiction — when those concepts arise at all. In this age of materialism, cynicism, relativism, and reductionism, losing the stories and poems that provide our children with examples of heroism and the pursuit of truth for its own sake should not be accepted because “that’s not where the jobs are.”
Where will the next generation of philosopher’s come from? Who will teach our children to think? Not to solve technological puzzles — but to reason out their life’s path when outguessing the standardized test is no longer enough. As much as I hate those dead dog stories, as appalled as I am by the racism in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I would like to reach our curricular planners out there: Understanding the movement of the Earth’s plates will not be enough for our students. Someday, our students will have to make their way through the tough and the ugly in life. Someday the dog will die. Those classroom discussions that have been shut down by that push to nonfiction? Please bring back those books and discussions. We are educating people, not cogs to plug into some future corporate machine.
Eduhonesty: If we want to create thinkers, we must give our children topics worthy of thought — and we will have better luck finding those topics in great works of fiction than in how-to guides, reports of scientific discoveries, or even biographies.