I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your jumped-to conclusion down!

Aug 9, 2015 by

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Ron Isaac – A tabloid’s recent story about “The Three Little Pigs” being the centerpiece of the Language Arts syllabus for eleventh-grade students at Landmark High School does indeed sound preposterous.

To say “The Three Little Pigs” is a standard high school literary classic is hogwash. But it may not be as crazy as the tabloid (founded by Alexander Hamilton) and the State Education Department insist. There’s a bigger problem than a curriculum dispute: the long-winded sophistry that the school principal used to justify it.

Principals don’t embarrass easily. In this case, the school leader took the “best defense is a good offense” approach. Instead of explaining why, she explained away. Her clarification reeked of jargon marinated in drivel familiar to teachers who have attended a myriad of mandatory session of so-called “professional development.”

Not unexpectedly ( does a bear defecate in the woods?) she was backed by the NYC Department of Education.

But let’s not rule out the best case scenario of this Landmark High School fairy tale. (It’s Pollyanna time.)

Many great authors have written masterpieces of children’s literature that can be interpreted on different levels in an adult context. That includes some of the most mature and acclaimed work of Stevenson, Dahl, Anderson, the Grimm brothers, Wilde, St. Exupery, E.B. White, LaFontaine, and Tolstoy.

They prove that simplicity of meaning doesn’t make that meaning shallow. Sophistication of language does not assure depth of ideas. Less is more. Consider The Ten Commandments.

But is the “best case scenario” applicable to Landmark High School, the Pride of Chelsea?  Does this institution of learning  reflect the actual reality of the intellectual experience of those eleventh-graders?

It is essential that high school students get practice reading. That sounds like a trite observation, but in today’s world of education there’s no such thing as belaboring the obvious. If, for any reason, the eleventh graders at Landmark High School can’t handle Macbeth, they’re much better off persevering with Three Little Pigs than becoming frustrated and resentful and cheating to “earn” unearned credits.

The Internet is a fraud-rich resource for students. Many of them have availed themselves of it and laughed their way to their graduation ceremony and likely a lifetime of indifference to literature.

The principal and the DOE are sometimes complicit, because when graduation rates go up, they look good. That’s what it’s all about to them. It’s patronizing and condescending. They will pretend that Three Little Pigs is the natural next step in the normal academic progression for kids who are at least 17 years old..

Those Landmark High School students should not be stigmatized  and it would be unkind, unrealistic and inaccurate to diagnose them as innately deficient. As long as they are being honest with themselves, most of them will make out all right in the long haul.

But will the school system be honest with them as well?

“The Three Little Pigs” is a parable for all ages. After mastering its ambiguities and implications, those Landmark High School eleventh-graders might upgrade to a more modern tale of big bad wolves: the Department of Education. What’s the moral of the story? “It is what it is.”

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