The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry – by Esolen, Highfill, Stotsky   11 comments

11 responses to “The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry – by Esolen, Highfill, Stotsky

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  1. I have taught English near Colton! I did a poetry slam one year and even my special ed students beamed when presenting a simple haiku they’d written. Another year, we started the poetry unit by blasting eminem and analyzing the literary devices and symbolism. Wow. It was awesome. It saddens me that such things are to vanish and be replaced with installation manuals and the sort.

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  3. It’s a wonderful article, up until the point that it begins talking about Common Core. In fact, under Common Core standards, English classes continue their focus on imaginative literature, and literary non-fiction. “The ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction.” (“Key Design Considerations”). The standards reflect this focus. Diane Stotsky has misrepresented the CC on this issue from the beginning. Moreover, Professor Stotsky’s Common Core standards would have had both a mandatory reading list, and a prescribed literature curriculum. I’m glad that her vision of the standards was not accepted. As a Ph.D. in English and an English teacher, I value the role that literature plays in the standards, and the autonomy that the standards give me and my school to choose our own readings, and use our own methods. Folks need to read the standards themselves, and to understand more than the talking points.

    • Steve, I must respectfully disagree with your comment. The Common Core standards do slash literature, and not just a little bit. They officially demand that in 4th grade, students read no more than 50% classic literature or stories, with 50% mandated to be informational text reading. The percentages worsen grade by grade so that by a student’s senior year, they may only read 30% stories/poetry/classic literature and 70% must be informational text. This is from the chart given out by Common Core on its official website. It is very important that the truth is known clearly on this point. I have never seen Dr. Sandra Stotsky misrepresent anything; those are harsh words against her, and would invite you to back up that assertion with evidence.

      • I’m sorry but you are misreading the standards, as was Dr. Stotsky. The 50/50 split refers to the entire grade, not to the English class. Here’s the entire passage: “Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6-12 must take place in other classes, not just English class.” The standards are clear that the function of the English class is imaginative literature, with other classes (social studies, etc.) assuming a greater responsibility for teaching higher order literacy skills. The standards are so clear about the centrality of literature in the ELA classroom that I have trouble believing her insistence to the contrary is not simply misrepresentation. However, I hope that you will stop repeating her error on your website. There are enough real issues with assessment, teacher training, etc. that we don’t need to focus on shadow issues.

  4. Steve, thank you for your comment. The official chart looks like this:

    Grade Literary Information
    4 50% 50%
    8 45% 55%
    12 30% 70%

    If you look at the new “aligned” textbooks for English Language Arts, they follow this formula and it is generally understood to be the aim of the Common Core to minimize literature and to maximize informational text. Although I have heard the argument you offer, even from my own State Office of Education, I’m far from persuaded that it is truly what is being asked of schools by districts/state boards –or if true, that it is realistic. Teachers in other subjects are not likely to be qualified nor enthusiastic about teaching poetry, drama, nonfiction and fiction reading and writing in subjects like science, P.E., math or social studies. They won’t make time for it even if their principals tell them that is what they expect. So even if your argument is true and is what’s happening in most schools, then it means to me that poetry still dies.

    Prior to Common Core, we had reading and writing in many subjects, but it was in THOSE subjects. This cannot replace the classic literature that holds so much value, that used to be taught in the English classroom.

    I don’t see this slashing of literature as a “shadow issue” of Common Core. I see it as central to holding on to our humanity as Americans.

    I highly recommend the book “The Storykillers” by Dr. Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College. Dr. Moore asserts that it is not just the death of classic fiction that is happening, but also the death of the practice of reading of whole pieces of literature, beaten out by Common Core’s crash diet– small slices of literature or historical documents. Equally bad is Common Core’s killing off of the great American story itself: American exceptionalism is no longer to be taught. American freedom, religiosity, and connectedness to her history are sliced away in the excerpting that is Common Core’s new literature.

    • Again, the chart is labelled: Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade. BY GRADE, not in the ELA class. The goals of the Common Core standards for the ELA class are clear. I cited them above.

      Teachers from other subjects are not expected to teach poetry, drama, or fiction. That is the job of the ELA class, which is explicit in the standards. Common Core has a different set of literacy standards for other subjects. The only way to see a “slashing of literature” is by ignoring what the standards themselves say.

      What you say about “Common Core’s crash diet– . . . small slices” is also a falsehood. Appendix B reads: “The standards require that students engage with appropriately literary and informational works; such complexity is best found in whole texts rather than passages from such texts.”

      Finally, there is no “new literature” in Common Core. Teachers, schools, districts, and states have the autonomy to choose whatever texts they wish.

      Your account of Common Core literature standards is a gross distortion of the standards, and demonstrably false. If your zeal has carried you from the truth, that is one thing, and perhaps understandable. But persisting in error once you see the truth is quite another. You might profitably reflect on why no one has leapt to your defense here. Consider whether it might finally be better to say–“Well, we goofed up on that one.” Acknowledging mistakes is not shameful. It even wins you credibility. Persisting in a belief in your own infallibility wins you no supporters, and diminishes the discourse.

      Common Core does nothing to diminish it. Only the most zealous partisan will refuse the evidence of the standards themselves. If your goal is to inform, and not merely to instill fear, you have some reflecting to do.

      • Steve, please do some more research and then come back.

        The Common Core-inspired movement away from classic literature toward more informational texts, which you say is not happening, is happening. It is not a fresh argument. It is not even breaking news. Virtually every academic or educator or educational sales person knows about it and is aligning to it. The proof is in that real-life pudding. Check out the websites of Prentice/Pearson or Houghton Mifflin or anyone. At Houghton Mifflin, they give a direct link to the Common Core Exemplars.

        This slashing of literature and narrative writing by students is clearly in the speeches of Common Core creator David Coleman, who openly mocks narrative writing in favor of informational writing; it’s in recent reports by the National Center on Education and the Economy which call the new movement “more relevant”; it’s in virtually all new textbooks, professional development sales products, Pearson Education websites, in the ASCD website, even

        How I wish your argument was the winner here. But while you and I chat, the whole nation seems to be aligning to, and even making the case for, this thing that you say does not exist: the trend for valuing informational text over classic literature (except in small servings). If it is not the case, then why is it being fought by some of the finest literature and language professors in this country, including not only Anthony Esolen and Sandra Stotsky but also Thomas Newkirk, Daniel Coupland, Alan Manning, Terrence Moore and so many more?! Do you alone interpret these standards correctly, and all these aligned textbooks are mistaken, along with me?

        Steve, this is not a case of ignoring the standards, nor is it a partisan issue. Look around you. English teachers and professors and parents fighting this robbery of the American mind come from both sides of the aisle.

        • I’m not talking about what publishers are creating, or what David Coleman says, but about what the Common Core standards say. The standards are unambiguous about the centrality of literature in the ELA classroom. It’s clear that you are directing the argument away from the standards because you have no counter-argument, and can’t have.

          Every English teacher I know interprets the standards to reflect this centrality of literature in our classrooms. Diane Ravitch has written about this, in a blog entitled “Yes, It Is OK to Teach Literature in English Class!” [emphasis hers] She writes about the MIS-perceptions you are helping to spread, and encourages the drafters of the Common Core to revise out the 70/30 split, since people like yourself MIS-understand it. YOU are contributing to the demise of poetry in the English class by perpetuating a willful misunderstanding.

          I write this not for you, but for the benefit of your readers. It has long become apparent that your are more invested in your crusade than in your integrity.

          Done here. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Last word is yours.

  5. Steve. I am not directing the argument away from the standards since the standards themselves show the lesseneing of exposure to poetry students are expected to receive. I am including –along with the common standards– everything that the standards are altering, as evidence of that alteration. I might also have included the sharp decline I have seen locally as my own public school attending high schooler has experienced so much less creative or narrative writing and less poetry in the past few Common Core years. The sad fact is that regardless of how some teachers like yourself may optimistically interpret Common Core, that freedom of interpretation ends with the test results and the tying of teacher evaluations to the test scores, and the resultant next season’s teaching to the test, doesn’t it?

    You are correct that I am invested in this crusade. My anger against the current version of Common Core language standards is based on Common Core’s absurd and dreary favoritism for informational text over poetry and narrative writing –and its resultant slighting of children’s love of reading and writing which I have seen for myself. You are incorrect in saying that I am not invested in truth and integrity. This is why I welcome even angry commenters to keep on commenting. Maybe we can enlighten each other with open, healthy debate.

    The standards themselves are doing this damage; it is not, as you claim, the interpreters of the standards who are to be blamed for the damage. (See especially pages 16 through 24 of “The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction” for specifics.) The white paper gives details from the standards themselves. I have not taken the time to repeat those same details here. Here is a summary: “Given the PAUCITY of standards mentioning POETRY at all, never mind the ELEMENTS OF POETRY, it is not clear that poetry as a genre can be well addressed by English teachers in a Common Core oriented classroom. Nor can they easily choose to do so in the REDUCED amount of time that English teachers are to spend on literary texts”.

    As you pointed out, Diane Ravitch (or anyone) may “encourage the drafters to revise out the 70/30 split” –but we can’t control the standards locally ourselves. That is the rotten core of the core. Only the controllers have control over that 70/30 split. So whether teachers, schools, textbook producers or others interpret this 70/30 as a mandate against literature or not, is only temporarily relevant since the controllers on the next draft may alter it to something far worse as easily as they can alter it to something far better.

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