Sunday, February 8, 2015

We heartily agree: “The Common Core Has Not Killed Literature”

Bravo to Meaghan Freeman for her wonderful new piece in The Atlantic: “The Common Core Has Not Killed Literature.”

Freeman, a 15-year veteran of the middle-school English classroom, takes up the ongoing debate about informational text in the Common Core and offers her view – that the Common Core standards ask for an appropriate “balance” between informational and literary texts. This balance is so crucial because, as she reminds us, most of the students in her class will not end up as English majors or English scholars. Whatever they will end up studying and doing in their future education and careers, however, they will need to be able to tackle not just literature but a wide variety of texts.

So Freeman identifies her task: to expose her students to “challenging and diverse texts.” And she celebrates what she sees as the autonomy inherent in how the standards allow her, as a teacher, the freedom to find creative connections between fiction and nonfiction. She mentions, for example, using scientific articles about genetic engineering in conjunction with “Harrison Bergeron.” Teachers all over the country are, like Freeman, finding these interesting kinds of textual connections. And when they do this work in the classroom, the juxtaposition of fiction and non-fiction doesn’t take away from the teaching of literature; it allows Freeman and the teachers like her to give students what Freeman rightly identifies as a “rigorous learning experience.”


Perhaps the scientifically-inclined student, who might never before have been particularly interested in literature, will discover and come to appreciate in Freeman’s classroom how writers of fiction have tackled issues of science and scientific ethics. Perhaps that young student will be transformed into a long-term reader of science fiction. But even if he or she does not emerge from Freeman’s classroom as a fiction-reader, teaching “Bergeron” together with articles about genetic engineering will allow all students to think and make connections about ideas that transcend the walls of the English classroom.

And that’s our most important goal as teachers.

While Freeman rejoices in how the standards give her freedom to do her job of creating learning in her classroom, she does admit it’s a challenge. Adding non-fiction into her curriculum, and doing so in ways that allow her to enhance that literary curriculum, is not easy. Nor is it easy to teach these new kinds of texts. Freeman wants “appropriate and valuable strategies to help [her] kids comprehend and analyze nonfiction texts.”

Let’s also note that if language arts teachers need this kind of help, so too do the teachers in the other content areas, who are now also responsible for using a diverse range of texts in their classrooms. The science teacher, for example, is surely struggling as well with how to use scientific articles about genetic engineering in his classroom in conjunction with the science textbook and the classroom experiments he is used to employing.

Perhaps this is the greatest opportunity offered by the Common Core: teachers across the disciplines can reach across the hallway to share ideas for how to teach literacy and content through cross-disciplinary lessons.

What’s clear, however, is that teachers like Meaghan Freeman, with a little time, are making the best out of the Common Core and transforming their classrooms into places of “rigorous and diverse learning for every student.” Bravo, again.

One final note: We are excited to share that Audrey will appear on Monday night at 11:30pm on Al-Jazeera America’s daily news discussion TV show, Inside Story, with Ray Suarez. The occasion for the program segment is the announced release of Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, due out in July 2015 from Harper Collins. Audrey was part of a panel, including Lee biographer Charles Shields, and was asked to address how and why Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is taught in the United States today.

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