Give Your Children Dickens For Christmas – They Won’t Be Reading Dickens in High School   Leave a comment

I love Charles Dickens.

— Love his hilarious, witty words; love his vivid, unforgettable descriptions of people and places; love his improbable plot twists; love the Christian soul of his stories.

The Colton High School English Department, under the old, higher-than-common-core English standards, used to teach Dickens’ “Great Expectations” year after year to ninth graders at Colton High school –when I was a brand new teacher there in the 1990s.  I hadn’t read the novel before I taught it.   It was, unfortunately, not on the recommended reading list of the high school I’d attended in Florida.

But reading and re-reading “Great Expectations” so many times, as I taught the novel, I really fell in love with the book.  This love I gained also persuaded some students, mostly against their will at first, to love that novel, too.  It was fun.

But now, that seems to be over.

According to Pioneer Institute, the Boston-based thinktank, Charles Dickens literature is going away.  High school literature reading lists for Common Core standards allow for very few British writers.  Shakespeare’s on.  Dickens is off.  Why?  There’s no room when you have to make room for informational texts that include Presidential Executive Orders and Insulation manuals. Dickens, gone from US education?  It’s beyond ridiculous.

Jamie Gass and Charles Chieppo, of Pioneer Institute, have written an article on this very subject in this week’s Worchester Telegram & Gazette:  http://www.telegram.com/article/20121219/NEWS/112199945/1020/opinion&Template=printart

Gass and Chieppo write:

“While the brilliance of Dickens’ novels… will live on, they’re on the endangered list in America’s public schools….  Shakespeare is one of the very few British writers named in the nationalized English standards… [W]atching “A Christmas Carol” on television may be kids’ only exposure to the magic of Dickens’ characters.

… Dickens’ works have instructed generations of novelists and schoolchildren around the world. His characters capture the spectrum of vices and virtues found in human nature: Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble, Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Pip, Estella, Miss Havisham, David Copperfield… many of these cleverly named characters speak the most enduring lines in the English language… Our children must read Dickens to grasp the universality of the human condition, compassion for human suffering, and the reality of human heroism… When the Ghost of Christmas Present comes to visit Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” he shows Scrooge two destitute children.

“This boy is Ignorance,” the Ghost says. “This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased…”
Could there be a clearer Dickensian omen for the price our country will pay if American public education turns its back on great literature?”

http://www.telegram.com/article/20121219/NEWS/112199945/1020/opinion&Template=printart
Postscript–
Well, I haven’t been back to Colton High school for many years.  But I have read “Great Expectations” on my own again.
I learned that there’s a new sign outside Colton High School today.  It looks like this:
I’m assuming that “Commited To High Standards” means bamboozled by Common Core, which doesn’t actually give high standards at all, but which dumps classic literature by the wayside in favor of informational texts, and which dumps cursive, and which dumps traditional math in favor of fuzzy math, and which does not allow any parent, teacher or principal to alter the national standards in any way.  (Why? Because the NGA/CCSSO copyrighted the standards and the US Dept. of Education hijacked them; Obama now claims he persuaded states to adopt them.)
When Dickens gets dropped because it’s not on the “rigorous high standards” train, the concept of what makes “high standards” has become fuzzy indeed.
Please, take your children to see “A Christmas Carol”.  Stuff a copy of a Dickens novel or an audio book into a Christmas stocking. Keep Charles Dickens alive in the hearts of American children.

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