Critics call new school standards an assault on poetry

May 15, 2014 by

In the state that was home to Emily Dickinson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, where Edgar Allan Poe was born and where Robert Frost died, critics of new national education goals fear that poetry will become an endangered pursuit.

The alarm is being sounded by the conservative Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank better known for its white papers lamenting public pension abuses than for its love of the sonnet. But Pioneer has also focused its ire on the Common Core teaching standards promoted by the Obama administration, saying they threaten state and local autonomy and the teaching of verse to schoolchildren.

“We do not read poetry so that we can write better office memoranda later on,” declared a recent institute report. “We want instead fully realized human beings who will read poetry because it is beautiful and because it brings us knowledge of what is true, even if it is knowledge that can no more be used than a sunset or a kiss can be used.”

Fighting words, indeed. The report — titled “The Dying of the Light,” after a phrase from a Dylan Thomas poem — arrived in the waning days of April, which was National Poetry Month. This spring, many Massachusetts public schools are testing out a replacement for the MCAS exam that is more in line with the Common Core, stressing critical thinking and skills to help students in college and careers.

While proponents say the federal standards are no less sensitive to rhyme and meter, the suggestion that poetry’s role in class could be diminished struck fear in the heart of some teachers and poets.

“If we’re expecting teachers to follow in a really homogenous way everything that is dictated by the law . . . and we’re punishing them if they don’t do that, that’s not effective,” said Eve Ewing, outreach coordinator for the Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective, which organizes “Louder Than A Bomb Massachusetts,” a youth poetry slam competition.

Poetry as a form of self-expression is crucial for students in a world where many young people feel voiceless, she said. “You can teach literally anything through or alongside poetry.”

The Common Core standards were proposed in 2010 so all states would adhere to a uniform set of academic learning goals in each grade, from kindergarten through high school. The standards were created with bipartisan support, led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Most states, including Massachusetts, have signed on, but critics have emerged across the political spectrum.

Although the Common Core does not set local school lesson plans or curricula, opponents fear that teachers, school districts, or states will have less freedom to decide what to teach and, in Pioneer’s view, less time for Wordsworth.

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via Critics call new school standards an assault on poetry – Metro – The Boston Globe.

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