Archive for the ‘literature’ Tag

How to Turn Great Literature into Informational Text   2 comments

Sharing Diane Ravitch’s:  How to Turn Great Literature into Informational Text.  Funny, yet useful!

 

 

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Goodbye to English Departments   5 comments

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This article, published yesterday in Minding the Campus,  is published here with permission. 

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Professor Grabar’s essay comes to this pointed conclusion: “If all poetry, writing, “spoken word,” and gesture is equally valuable, we don’t need literature professors.” 

This is the perversion of the concept of equality and the meat of current “education reform”.  Ed reformers’ quest for social justice has taken over good judgment and even honesty.

But no matter what they say, the truth remains; and there are such things as beauty and truth.  There is value in the study of classic literature.  Equality of human opportunity never should have been confused with sameness of result, of effect, or mandated sameness.

The prime movers of education reform are unwilling to distinguish between the value of a book, of an academic disciplines, a tradition or even a fact— which facts are true, and matter a lot– enough to fight for?  Which ones matter a little?  Which “facts” and “studies” do not matter much at all, or are inappropriate –or are lies?  Which academic departments are dismissable, replaceable, overvalued by past generations?  And who gets to call the shots on what matters, anyway?

They ignore the wisdom of the ages and suddenly treat every every  ink stain, every thought and utterance from any source, from grunts to glory, as belonging equally in our universities and schools and in the minds and hearts of our children.

This point of Professor Grabar’s meets up with with what I desperately hope is not a new ed reform trend, (which is happening in Boston now) –one I was shocked to learn about:   they are doing away with history departments   and no longer hiring real history teachers.  History will be “incorporated” under the concept of  informational text in language arts classes.    It makes sense, when you look at the actual, long winded 18-word title of the language arts standards of Common Core:  “The Common Core State Standards for Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.” 

Goodbye to classic literature departments, and to high quality history and science as well?

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Goodbye to English Departments

By Mary Grabar

English departments have pretty much given up on their mission of preserving a literary canon or teaching poetic form and rhetorical strategies.  Decades ago, politics of race, class, and gender overtook any concern for preserving and perpetuating poetic art.  In fact, to claim that there is such a thing as Literature was to align oneself with the right-wing Imperialists.

Today, “digital” is seen as dismantling the last vestige of literary hierarchy. James Pulizzi, in the New Republic, predicts, with no sorrow, that digitization will make literature departments “largely extinct.” His dismissal of traditional English departments is very casual: “As long as literature departments remain beholden to print culture, to the study and transmission of printed texts, they will continue to fade in relevance and prestige.”

English professors themselves have been ushering in this brave, new digital world.  Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Richard Utz last year lectured “hidebound faculty members who continue to assign and study only pre-computer-based media,” telling the English professoriate that they should “embrace, accompany critically, and shape the new discourses its students sorely need to communicate and compete: blogs, video essays, Web comics, digital archives, data visualization, and the like.”  The digital change is more profound than the transference of material from paper to screen.

The English Department home page of Georgia State University, where I earned my master’s in 1994, declares now, “We read the world.”  The profiles of faculty hired since my days as a student there reveal the changes and are representative of departments across the country.  Dr. Gina Caison’s work focuses on “southern and Native American studies.”  Her work is “interdisciplinary” and “incorporates her interests in performance studies and American visual culture.”   Dr. Caison seems to be doing very little analysis of the written word: her “book-length project” “explores the recurrent use of Native American history in literary and cultural texts of the U.S. South,” and she is co-producer of a documentary film about the history of “studying and collecting indigenous human remains.”  Whatever she is doing–drama, anthropology, history–it is a far cry from literary study. But even American literature anthologies have scalp dances and rain dances crowding out William Bradford and Anne Bradstreet.

Caison’s colleagues are doing similar work.  Dr. Lindsey Eckert “specializes in British Romanticism and Digital Humanities.” Dr. Mary Hocks does “digital rhetoric, visual rhetorics, and computers and composition studies.”  Dr. Audrey Goodman writes about “the literary and visual cultures of the American Southwest,” and Dr. Scott Heath “specializes in 20th and 21st century African American literature, black popular culture, and speculative race theory.”  He has a book contract on “hip-hop discourse.”

So what the University of Arizona is doing is only the logical conclusion in this move away from literature: they are eliminating the English department.  They don’t say this, but by moving English from the Humanities Department to the College of Social Behavior, they are relegating literature to the purely utilitarian.  They see the word as simply a means for persuading and transmitting information.  Such moves in higher education parallel the focus under the Common Core K-12 program on “informational texts,” which, as it turns out, often are slightly disguised ideological texts.

Today, we have a digital miasma of information with college graduates trained to discernment only to the point of being able to distinguish politically unacceptable ideas from those that are.  Anything that does not go along with the current political pieties is considered “far-right,” “extremist,” or “reactionary.”  These are terms used by professors and in assigned reading material.

Poetry then becomes nothing more than self-expression of momentary impulses or fleeting observations without regard to form or tradition–kind of like Tweets or Facebook posts about the delicious overstuffed sandwich on the plate.  Anyone can be a poet–as long as the message is acceptable politically.  At poetry slams in coffee houses across the country the pencil-scribbling on the step to the podium garners as much applause as the carefully constructed (rare) villanelle.  The subjects of the “poems” are usually the scribblers themselves–the outrages against them personally and the failure of the world to grasp their vision of justice.

If all poetry, writing, “spoken word,” and gesture is equally valuable, we don’t need literature professors–not even those specializing in “digital media.”  It’s a sad day for those of us who love and teach literature.

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I hope you are screaming and pulling out your hair as you read this. I hope you remain one of the squeakiest and most annoying wheels in the ears of your local and state school board, and that they receive emails and calls from you often enough that they no longer smile when they hear your name.    Their disdain doesn’t matter; the children do.

Our children deserve at least as high quality an education as we received.  This ed reform movement ain’t it.

 

Thank you, Mary Grabar.

 

Video Lecture from Hillsdale College: Story Killers   3 comments

Dr. Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College speaks in this video about the Common Core standards in a college lecture entitled “Story-Killers: How the Common Core Destroys Minds and Souls”.

The architects of Common Core, Dr. Moore contends, are deliberately killing stories.

But why?

First Dr. Moore discusses what Common Core leaves out, in great detail. Then he asks (at minute 16:50) “what kind of mind, indeed what kind of soul will you have after going through this sort of stuff [Common Core high school]?”

He answers. This is the part we must hear.

“Nothing but mischief” is what students are learning that our country has been up to for over two centuries; and, that the past is a dark cloud that has nothing to teach us.

“No appreciation for beauty or heroism or faith” is what students will hold –because they will most likely never have discussed such things in relation to a whole book of classic literature.

“Not too high of an opinion as a family as an institution” nor of the love that holds families together –because no such models are being provided.

“Not to have been invited to love the thing we call good” and “not being taught how to laugh and how to find humor in the human condition” are additional results Dr. Moore sees coming from Common Core English classes.

Common Core high school English classes will take students down one of two roads, says Dr. Moore: either “utter boredom” or, “if you actually took these lessons seriously, down the depressing path of the prematurely jaded, postmodern anti-heroic view of life.”

He calls this movement intellectual and moral debilitation, as it deprives students of the best stories, and as it deprives them of learning about what it means to be human. Whoever controls the narrative, he explains, also controls the politics, the economics, the families, the ways we think, the ways we believe.

What is wrong with the rhetoric surrounding education reform, he asks? The architects of Common Core are simply asserting that their scheme will make students college and career ready, with no proof to back them up. “That is astonishing!” he says.

(Yes, it is.)

The authors of Common Core can point to no successes where this scheme has been tried. So the 45 states that have adopted Common Core, Dr. Moore says, “bought the farm, sight unseen.”

The traditional aims of education: truth, knowledge goodness, virtue, justice, industriousness, and happiness are no longer the aims of education.

“There is no search for happiness in the Common Core,” Dr. Moore says, noting that happiness was one of the main purposes for education according to our founding fathers.

Art, music and literature, he says, which are focused on the human soul, are being seen as increasingly dispensible under Common Core. Modern journalists are seen at the same status level as Shakespeare. “Drive by’s” of literature are now encouraged, rather than the careful, slow reading of a great classic work.

He speaks about the numbers of hours students are being put in front of a computer in the quest to prepare them for jobs. But “Jobs” he says, “do not make the human mind. The human mind makes jobs.”

Then he points out the wordiness and the silliness and the lack of age-appropriateness of many of the standards themselves.

There are pathetically humorous examples, such as why students studying “Frankenstein” don’t actually get asked to read the book.

“I am not making this up. This is straight out of the Common Core State Standards.”

Then.

He speaks about the Constitution.

“The scariest thing I actually think is written on the first page of the introduction to the Common Core…and I will read that… ‘The standards are intended to be a living work. As new and better evidence emerges, the standards will be revised accordingly.’ … Who gets to decide what constitutes new and better evidence? … The standards will be rewritten and rewritten again… what states have signed on to, they have no control over whatsoever.”

He says this is the way the progressives are pulling off the takeover. But Moore says that the authors of Common Core made two fundamental mistakes.

(minute 46:00)

First, they didn’t think that the American people would want to fight for its stories. They thought that the American people with the promises of a globally competitive society (as though we’d never seen that before) somehow would embrace computers and new technologies every new fangled idea in education and forget the fact that we as a nation understand what it means to be a globally competitive society and what we should be doing in the classroom is forming the minds and souls of the nation’s youth and therefore, we need our stories because stories are the thing that form and educate the heart.

“The second thing that they overshot and did not expect is that they simply underestimated the suburban mom. There is nothing that a suburban mom –or any mom, for that matter– cares more about than the heart and happiness of her children.

“And when that comes into danger, suburban moms who vote and who know how to organize themselves (as two ladies in Indiana do, named Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle) and who can form organizations like Hoosiers Against the Common Core, they will mobilize people and they will take action and state legislatures then have to listen…”

The issue that is boiling right now (other than Obamacare) in this country right now, is Common Core. And this is a fight over our schools and ultimately the souls and minds of our young people.”

“This is the time to take our stories back. After we do that, we can take our schools back, and once we have our schools back we are on the road to taking our nation back.”

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Thank you, Dr. Moore.

Video: Hillsdale College Lecture on Common Core   15 comments

The video below is part of a new series about Common Core, from Hillsdale College.

At 37:00 Professor Daniel B. Coupland speaks about the servile quality of Common Core’s skills-based focus: “As long as students are told that the end of education is a job or a career, they will forever be servants of some master.”
He further quotes Heartland Institute’s education policy analyst Joy Pullman, who spoke recently at a Wisconsin hearing on Common Core: “In a self-governing nation, we need citizens who can govern themselves. The ability to support oneself with meaningful work is … only a part of self-government. When a nation expands workforce training so that it crowds out other things that rightly belong in education, we end up turning out neither good workers nor good citizens.”

Professor Coupland continues: “The ancients knew that in order for men to be truly free, they must have a liberal education that includes the study of literature, history, mathematics, science, music and art. Yes, man is made for work, but he’s also made for so much more… Education should be about the highest things. We should study these things of the stars, plant cells, Mozart’s requium… not simply because they’ll get us into the right college or into the right line of work. Rather, we should study these noble things because they can tell us who we are, why we’re here…”

Quoting another professor, Anthony Esolen, a professor of Renaissance English Literature at Providence College in Rhode Island, Coupland says:

“What appalls me most about the standards … is the cavalier contempt for great works of human art and thought, in literary form. It is a sheer ignorance of the life of the imagination. We are not programming machines. We are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory-like. We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women… to be human beings, honoring what is good and right and cherishing what is beautiful.”

In closing, Professor Coupland proundly says:

“If education has become –as Common Core openly declares– preparation for work in a global economy, then this situation is far worse than Common Core critics ever anticipated. And the concerns about cost, and quality, and yes, even the constitutionality of Common Core, pale in comparison to the concerns for the hearts, minds, and souls of American children.”

Amen.

Common Core and the Fiction/Non-Fiction Question   Leave a comment

Common Core and the Fiction/Non-Fiction Question.

Read this post by Diane Ravitch.

She says: “It is interesting that the two loudest voices defending [common core] are Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, both quite conservative groups.

The way the issue is framed unfortunately misses the point, at least the point that I and others have raised.

Why do the [common core] standards mandate a proportionate split between fiction and non-fiction?

Who thought it was necessary to turn NAEP’s instruction to test developers into a mandate for teachers?

Who will police the implementation of the arbitrary ratios of 50-50 or 70-30?

If the ratios apply to all courses, can’t we assume that students will read “informational text” in math, science, civics, history, and other subjects, leaving teachers of English language arts to assign as much fiction or non-fiction as they want?

In the interests of clarity, here’s what I want: the ratios should be eliminated. They are an overreach. They have no basis in research or experience. There is no justification for imposing them.

I urge this not as a partisan of fiction or non-fiction, but as a partisan of common sense.”

Yes!

Common Core: “Obtuse Mumbo Jumbo”   2 comments

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/common-core-caught-in-its-own-tangled-web/

Yesterday, Cato Institute published a great article that exposes some serious problems about Common Core “education.”

Here’s my favorite part.

Neal McClusky writes:  “I sure hope the Common Core doesn’t have lessons on ambiguity, because I don’t think the crafters grasp the concept. This explanation couldn’t be much more ambiguous, stating that English classes must focus on literature “as well as” nonfiction. Sure sounds like a 70-30 or 50-50 split could be mandated under that. This is, of course, exactly the kind of obtuse mumbo-jumbo one should expect from a document — and overall effort — that tries to simultaneously be revolutionary and innocuous. And wouldn’t it have been wonderful if this sort of thing had been hashed out before states were cajoled into adopting the standards? But then there would have been public disagreements, and all the silliness of people holding different opinions is exactly what destroyed past efforts to impose uniform standards on the country.”

Fiction vs. Nonfiction Smackdown: Washington Post   Leave a comment

For those who still believe Common Core is “rigorous” and good for kids, here is a must-read from Jay Mathews and the Washington Post. 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/fiction-vs-nonfiction-smackdown/2012/10/17/cbb333d0-16f0-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_print.html

Fiction vs. nonfiction smackdown

By , Published: October 17

There is no more troubling fact about U.S. education than this: The reading scores of 17-year-olds have shown no significant improvement since 1980.

The new Common Core State Standards in 46 states and the District are designed to solve that problem. Among other things, students are being asked to read more nonfiction, considered by many experts to be the key to success in college or the workplace.

The Common Core standards are one of our hottest trends. Virginia declined to participate but was ignored in the rush of good feeling about the new reform. Now, the period of happy news conferences is over, and teachers have to make big changes. That never goes well. Expect battles, particularly in this educationally hypersensitive region.

Teaching more nonfiction will be a key issue. Many English teachers don’t think it will do any good. Even if it were a good idea, they say, those who have to make the change have not had enough training to succeed — an old story in school reform.

The clash of views is well described by two prominent scholars for the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy group, in a new paper. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas and Mark Bauerlein of Emory University say the reformers who wrote the Common Core standards have no data to support their argument that kids have been hurt by reading too much fiction. They say analyzing great literature would give students all the critical thinking skills they need. The problem, they say, is not the lack of nonfiction but the dumbed-down fiction that has been assigned in recent decades.

“Problems in college readiness stem from an incoherent, less-challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward,” Bauerlein and Stotsky say. “Until that time, a literature-heavy English curriculum was understood as precisely the kind of pre-college training students needed.”

The standards were inspired, in part, by a movement to improve children’s reading abilities by replacing standard elementary school pabulum with a rich diet of history, geography, science and the arts. University of Virginia scholar E.D. Hirsch Jr. has written several books on this. He established the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville to support schools that want their third-graders studying ancient Rome and their fourth-graders listening to Handel.

Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher who is vice president of the foundation, quotes a key part of the Common Core standards making this case:

“By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”

The Common Core guidelines recommend fourth-graders get an equal amount of fiction and nonfiction. Eighth-grade reading should be about 55 percent nonfiction, going to a recommended 70 percent by 12th grade.

Bauerlein and Stotsky say that could hurt college readiness. The new standards and associated tests, they say, will make “English teachers responsible for informational reading instruction, something they have not been trained for, and will not be trained for unless the entire undergraduate English major as well as preparatory programs in English education in education schools are changed.”

Pondiscio says he admires Bauerlein and Stotsky and doesn’t see why English classes have to carry the nonfiction weight. Social studies and science courses can do that. The real battle, he says, will be in the elementary schools, where lesson plans have failed to provide the vocabulary, background knowledge and context that make good readers.

Those who want the new standards say learning to read is more than just acquiring a skill, like bike riding. It is absorbing an entire world. That is what the fight in your local district will be about.

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