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Less literature will not make our students more competitive

POSTED June 24, 2013 6:03 p.m.

Hidden in the political controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s Common Core Standards educational program is the fact that students will spend much less time and effort learning about American and English literature.  The theory is that students need more practice in "technical-informational" reading to be competitive in the world market. 

Some schools are already adjusting their schedules to reflect this change.  One local school already plans to reduce the time eighth grade students spend being taught English/American literature and composition from two periods (95 minutes) to one period (45 minutes) this next year. Instructional minutes put aside, it is clear that students will read far less fictional and non-fictional literature in favor of technical-informational reading.  CCS texts already adopted in other states have replaced as much as half of traditional literature with informational reading, some of it comically banal and deadening.

As someone who has actually taught eighth grade and has seen the positive effect of reading quality literature can have on students, I am in complete agreement with Anthony Esolen of Providence College who stated, "What appalls me most about the standards...is the cavalier contempt for the great works of human art and thought in literary form....We are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory-like.  We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women...to be human beings, honoring what is good and right and cherishing what is beautiful." 

Practically speaking, it is hard to see how a reduction in time or effort spent reading quality literature, which requires higher level thinking, can make students more competitive in the world market.  Let’s face the facts. If China is doing better than us economically, it is not because their population is better educated; it is because it has an unlimited number of uneducated people willing to work in mind numbing Dickens novel-like jobs while the elite competitors in charge look the other way.

The creation of competitive individuals here is not the problem, at least not in California.

Our much-maligned education system manages to over-fill every university with qualified students for the high-level technical fields.  Hopefully, they are also who are also hopefully literate and have a sense of conscience based on the American story describe in our literature. For most people who love to read and learned to love reading in school and from our parents, the whole CCS idea is nonsensical and not acceptable. 

— Larry Hoyt

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