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Whatever Happened to Common Core and What Happened to Classic Literature?

Jul 23, 2018 by

I am happy to see that our friend Peter Greene, recently retired from teaching, just published an article in Forbes. This makes me hopeful that business folk might learn from his wisdom.

In this article, he explains the conundrum of the Common Core. It was supposed to save the world, lift education to new heights, and achieve other miracles but it suddenly became so toxic that states started claiming they had dropped it—even when they hadn’t.

As usual, what matters most are the tests, not the standards. In a time-honored, inevitable practice, teachers have revised them to fit their own classrooms.

But, lo, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute discovered a huge difference that everyone but TBF attributes to Common Core. Teachers are dropping classic literature. For one thing, the CORE prioritizes non-fiction Over fiction. For another, students are expected to do close reading, which prepares them for the snippets of text on a standardized test.

TBF says “teachers should take another look at their ELA curriculum to make sure they aren’t overlooking classic works of literature. Although it’s encouraging that ELA teachers are assigning more informational texts and literary nonfiction, as the CCSS expect, it’s concerning that they seem to be doing so at the expense of “classic works of literature.””

TBF received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to advocate for the adoption of the Common Core, even in states where the English curriculum was far superior to the Common Core, with Massachusetts as the prime example.

They are hardly in a position now to disown the consequences of the Core, which many English teachers predicted.

Jamie Gass at the conservative Pioneer Institute bemoans what Common Core has done to the teaching of classic literature, which used to be the Crown Jewels of the Massachusetts English language arts curriculum. (FYI, I totally detest the Pioneer Institute on charter schools, but like to read Jamie Gass on literature.)

Gass refers to “The Count of Monte Christo” as a novel that belongs in the curriculum but has been banished by the fetishes of the Common Core.

He writes:

“Since 2005, Massachusetts, with K-12 English standards that were rich in classical literature, has outperformed every other state on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the nation’s report card.” Reading books like “The Count of Monte Cristo” helped students achieve this distinction.

“The author’s father, Thomas-Alexandre (Alex) Dumas, son of a scoundrel French marquis and a black slave woman, is the subject of Tom Reiss’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “The Black Count.” Alex’s life was something beyond improbable: ascending from slavery in the Caribbean sugar colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to command 50,000 men in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic armies. General Dumas was the heroic inspiration for his son’s adventure novels.

“Alexandre Dumas’s intriguing plots elevate our understanding of history, geography and culture. Few authors can use swashbuckling action to ignite students’ imaginations, while simultaneously teaching about the glory and treachery within human nature.

“Sadly, in 2010 the Bay State abandoned its literature-rich English standards for inferior national ones, the Common Core, which slashed fiction by 60 percent and stagnated NAEP reading scores. Marginalizing great books deprives schoolchildren of legendary stories that can transform young lives.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” is Dumas’s most thought-provoking novel. This revenge thriller features an innocent, uneducated French sailor, Edmond Dantes. His naiveté allows him to be manipulated by scheming Machiavels, who unjustly imprison him for 14 years in the notorious dungeon fortress, Chateau d’If.

“While incarcerated, Edmund is befriended by a wise, aging inmate, Abbe Faria, who teaches him to understand timeless writings, dissect conspiracies, and become a skillful swordsman. Abbe also reveals to Edmund the whereabouts of a buried treasure. Once Edmund escapes, wealth and knowledge transform his identity into the calculating Count of Monte Cristo, who shrewdly exacts his revenge on the malicious villains.

“Dumas’s enduring lessons also apply to K-12 education policy: Wily and self-serving adults would sooner consign unschooled young people to futures of intellectual solitary confinement than teach them the classic texts and ideas that might ensure their survival in the world.

“How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid?” Dumas asked prophetically. “It must be education that does it.”

“Decades of research report that “boredom,” which another writer called “the shriek of unused capacity,” is the major reason one million students annually drop out of high school. Eighty percent of America’s minority-majority prison population are dropouts. Education bereft of great stories like Dumas’s will only exacerbate this crisis.”

Mike Petrilli, meet Jamie Gass.

Don’t tell teachers to teach classic literature when you pushed standards that diminished their value.

The Common Core killed classic literature, except for those daring teachers that defy the district and state mandates of the Common Core standards.

Source: Whatever Happened to Common Core and What Happened to Classic Literature? | Diane Ravitch’s blog

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1 Comment

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    Daring teachers will opt into private schools, where they can use the Common Core to help students achieve proficiency in English without the continuing, mistaken mandate of the federal government for annual testing in two subjects only.

    Nonetheless, this blog post presents a false dichotomy. Classic literature can serve very effectively to help pupils achieve the Common Core standards; it’s the testing, together with the false belief that all of the reading required to prepare for the state tests is the responsibility of the English teachers, that has led foolishly directed districts to replace classic literature with informational excerpts.

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