Thoughts on a Thurday: Reading Standards

Bopping around the internets, I stumbled across this article “What Should Children Read?”   by Sara Mosle over at The New York Times Opinion Pages. In it she discusses the Common Core State Standards which have been adopted by a majority of states and which will go into effect in 2014. I found so many things about this article fascinating including the fact that my state has adopted these standards which  go into effect in 1.5 school years and I have heard nothing about it. And I like to think I am a fairly involved parent. But that is a tangent for another blog and another time. Today’s musing are about her questions about the amount of non-fiction reading which will be required and why.

According to Mosle, by 4th grade students will be required to read 50% non-fiction and by 12th grade that will be 70%.* Now here is the rub. Have we not been worrying about why our children do not read? Wasn’t one of the reasons we greeted Harry Potter with such joy and enthusiasm because kids were finally picking up books again? And forgive me if I am biased here but now you want to tell them that boy wizards and demigods or even I suppose sparkly vampires are out but “biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps” are in. Oooooo, directions, forms and maps, that is sure to get them all fired up.

But the argument that is present by David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, is, to me, more chilling.

“It is rare in a working environment, … that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”

And this is when my pet peeve 928 went up. You see I think we have lost the basic premise of education and that is why education is failing. Education, particularly higher education, used to be about creating a person of knowledge and intellect. Someone who was well read and well rounded. Someone who often had a breadth of knowledge in many areas and only perhaps a narrow band in one. Someone who would get a job and then be trained to do that job or continue on in their schooling to further prepare for a job. But now it is different. Education is all about the job. No one will care if you know Keats from Yeats, Socrates from Plato from Aristotle, or dharma from karma. But you will know how to do that job before you even should know what job it is you want. This week my 12 year old 8th grader had to sit down and determine which “program”*** she was going to be in next year in high school so that she could take the “right” courses and be prepared. At 12! It is not OK to say you are going to take 4 years of math and science and literature and history. And maybe take your high school year and figure out what might be interesting to you to learn about in college. No, you have to structure your high school experience around a job decision.

Maybe the problem is not that we are failing our children by not preparing them enough but the issue is that we are failing them by preparing them so specifically?


*Which I did confirm.

**David Coleman

***And just so we are clear by program I mean “Professional: Fine Arts and Humanities:Journalism” kind of specifics.