I received this comment recently in my email:
“I haven’t really been sure about the hullabaloo centering on the Common Core until this year. What follows are some of my thoughts regarding my daughter’s AP English class. If what follows might be helpful for discussion in your blog, please use my story as you wish. I admire your work and am very thankful for your voice in education.
All the best!
My daughter is taking AP Language and Composition this year and I have been intrigued by the texts used in the class. It happens that I took the same class many decades ago. It amazes me how the reading lists differ from my class as compared to hers! I recall reading a lot of fiction. Her course seems to be almost exclusively non fiction. Has this AP course changed so much over the years that Camus and Miller, Wolf and Hawthorne are no longer useful? As I browsed syllabi for AP Language and Composition for recent years from other schools available on the internet, I came to realize that the difference in my daughter’s class has nothing to do with the decades that separate the instruction I received, compared to hers. What is different is the implementation of Common Core standards! Common Core wasn’t really real to me until now.
Take a look at what my daughter is reading during her first semester:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebbecca Skloot
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Short pieces such as:
Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan
“How Fetal Tissue is Used in Medical Research” The Week
“Ten Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day” by Lana Winter-Herbert for LifeHack.org
“The Ugly Truth About Beauty” by Dave Berry
“Fly the Partisan Skies” by David Brooks
This can be compared to reading lists from several schools I happened upon on the internet, all of which contained texts much closer to what I read so many years ago. This one offers a useful example:
AP English Language and Composition Syllabus 2014-2015 Darla Barnett Terry High School
First 18 weeks
Shea, Renee, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.
-Excerpts from 19th Century American Writers: The Transcendentalists
-Dead Poets Society
-Excerpts from Mark Twain’s writings
-Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
-Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
– Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
Other syllabi include works by Nabokov, Didion, Sontag, E. B. White, Frost, Emily Dickenson, names oh so familiar to me.
Why the difference for my daughter’s class? It turns out that the Skloot and Roach books have been adopted for Common Core as very important texts. They are “informational” and they are geared toward teaching science subjects while being useful for courses such as AP English Language and Composition. My daughter accepts their use for the course – the many kids who are interested in science and don’t really enjoy fiction that much are better served, she thinks, by these books than by the classical texts. However, I noticed that all the works are rather short in length. I asked her how much reading she does this year compared to her previous year’s English course. She replied, “Less, but it’s more in depth, unpleasant reading!” The unpleasantness refers to the fact that her major reading has to do with death, cadavers and a lot of science and politics that explore issues of death and cadavers. But, she can persevere through the course and she really likes her teacher!
Since the course my daughter is taking is focused upon “language” and “composition,” I am comfortable with the idea that she will learn all that she needs to learn using “informational” texts. This isn’t a literature course, after all. However, it must be acknowledged, I think, that the classical literature that served to lead young minds to process “language” and encourage “composition” is being sacrificed to Common Core “informational” texts. The fine minds that produced classical literature are not the influences that shape my daughter’s writing this year. Instead, science writers fill that role.
Common Core is changing education in fundamental ways and I only recently realized how that is the case, given my daughter’s experience. Is this good or bad? I don’t really know. But I do know that I picked up a copy of a short story, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, one of the texts used in several of the online syllabi, for my daughter to read in her spare moments (she read it and really liked it!)! Something tells me that I will be visiting the library many more times in the coming school year to search out classical literature for my daughter’s spare time reading!”