Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania and blogger extraordinaire, here reviews David Coleman’s approach to teaching literature and finds it wanting.

 

This matters because David Coleman is both the architect of the infamous Common Core standards and the CEO of the College Board, which administers the SAT for college admission.

 

Greene examines how Coleman would teach Hamlet, Huck Finn, the Gettysburg Address, and a few other well-known literary works and shows what Coleman does not understand about teaching.

 

I hope not to spoil your pleasure in reading Greene’s analysis by sharing his concluding thoughts:

 

Coleman repeatedly fails to distinguish between his own experience of the text and Universal Truth. This leads him both to believe apparently that if he just figured something out about Bernardo, he must be the first person ever to see it, that his own reaction to a line is the universal one, that his path into the text is the only one, and that things that do not matter to him should not matter to anybody. Of all the reformsters, he is the one least likely to ever acknowledge contributions of any other living human being. For someone who famously said that nobody gives a shot about your thoughts and feelings, Coleman is enormously fascinated by and has great fait on his own thoughts and feelings.

 

The frequent rap on Coleman’s reading approach is that it is test prep, a technique designed to prepare students to take standardized tests. But the more Coleman I read, the more I suspect it’s the other way around– that Coleman thinks a standardized test is really a great model of life, where there’s always just one correct answer, one correct path, one correct reading, and life is about showing that you have it (or telling other people to have it).

 

Sadly, it often seems that what David Coleman doesn’t know about literature is what David Coleman doesn’t know about being human in the world. Life is not a bubble test. There is a richness and variety in human experience that Coleman simply does not recognize nor allow for. His view of knowledge, learning, understanding, and experience is cramped and tiny. It’s unfortunate that circumstances have allowed him such unfettered power over the very idea of what an educated person should be. It’s like making a person who sees only black and white the High Minister of National Art.