What the ELA Common Core and Upcoming Tests May Be Missing

What the ELA Common Core and Upcoming Tests May Be Missing

From Marshall Memo #490

“I like it when my students cry, when they read with solemnity and purpose, when the project of making meaning becomes personal,” says New York City teacher Claire Needell Hollander in this passionate New York Times article. “My middle-school students turn again and again to highly charged young adult novels. The poems and stories they receive enthusiastically are the ones that pack the most emotional punch. Just as teens like to take physical risks, they are driven to take emotional risks. For teachers, emotion is our lever. The teen mind is our stone.”

            Hollander believes the Common Core ELA standards do a super-thorough job enumerating skills but have a slim list of politically safe, literarily agnostic, emotionally arid books that students would never choose to read on their own. She’s worried that students, “with their curiosity, sadness, confusion, and knowledge deficits, are left out of the equation. They are on the receiving end of lessons planned for a language-skills learning abstraction.” We are avoiding a conversation on a canon of books all students should read, says Hollander, “in favor of a curriculum that treats the study of literature as though it were a communication system unrelated to who we are as people… The writers of the Common Core had no intention of killing literature in the classroom. But the convenient fiction that yearly language learning can be precisely measured by various ‘metrics’ is supplanting the importance of literary experience.”

            College literature classes are “dense with philosophical, psychological, and moral meaning,” Hollander says. That’s because there are no state tests for college students. She believes we should align our secondary classrooms with college “by opening a real discussion about what teens should read in middle school and high school… The basis for higher-level learning – for philosophy, psychology, literature, even political science – is the emotions and impulses people feel every day. If we leave them out of the picture, reading is bled of much of its purpose.”

 

“No Learning Without Feeling” by Claire Needell Hollander in The New York Times, June 9, 2013, http://nyti.ms/1blJahT

From Marshall Memo #490

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