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26 September 2015 @ 11:19 am
Them's fighting words  
"In recent years, we had begun replacing a few classics with high-interest Young Adult novels, hoping to capture reluctant readers. However, we discovered it actually shortchanged kids. They didn't understand many common literary allusions, and engaging in an in-depth discussion with popular fiction was a farcical struggle. We knew we had to change. We wanted to build a strong foundation centered on the best texts available. We wanted students to share a common cultural literacy. We wanted students to participate in what College Board calls the "Great Global Conversation." Ignorance is not bliss; it is a missed opportunity.

The SAT's text complexity focus led us to an awakening: a rediscovery of classics. Literary giants-such as Homer, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Bradbury-speak to universal struggles, truths, and concerns across humanity. These works have withstood the test of time because they offer more value and deeper insight than popular recreational reading. While we still encourage students to read for pleasure at home, class time is spent with a knowledgeable teacher expertly guiding students through these works of literary merit. It takes more teacher preparation and effort, but we know our content is rigorous, relevant, and meaningful."


I hardly know where to begin with just these two paragraphs from a longer article found here: http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919801&bcid=25919801&rssid=25919791&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Ftm%2F%3Fuuid%3D67790FFE-6204-11E5-913C-71C9B3743667. So, I am going to go line by line for several posts. This denigration of YA literature must not be allowed to stand. But, first, let me say a word about the SAT and its "research."

When you click on the term "research" at the SAT website, this is what you see:correlational research, abstracts, and information about the tests. What I do not see is any indication that this makes kids more college and career ready. But that argument is for another day. I want to talk about YA literature and this dismissal of texts (and the workshop approach) in one brush stroke.

1. The first sentence indicates that the reason for the inclusion of YA was simply to capture reluctant readers. I guess I want to know why reluctant readers are reluctant and why they are taking AP courses? Are they"reluctant" because they cannot form connections to texts written hundreds of years earlier? Because they cannot connect to Hester and Dimmesdale? I suspect that is certainly part of the reason they are reluctant.

2. The author asserts that kids could not engage in a literary discussion of YA, that such discussion was farcical. Could I ask for an example here? How much YA literature do you know? Have you read MONSTER? SPEAK? SKELLIG? HARD LOVE? These are the first recipients of the Printz Award. There are 15 years of books more than worthy of discussion and analysis that would not be farcical. I would argue also that ANY book might result in meaningful discussion with a skilled teacher.

3. What is a common cultural literacy? According to several studies, that common cultural literacy looks white, male, and largely European. I don't know about you, but I do not think this is a common literacy. I think it is the same old stuff that gets trotted out.

4. As for a "great global conversation," I suggest trying PERSEPOLIS, a book that meets zero criteria from the perspective described today. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE might be an interesting addition. WHITE DARKNESS, JELLICOE ROAD, IN DARKNESS, HOW I LIVE NOW, A STEP FROM HEAVEN, and POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND (all Printz books, BTW) would also serve a global conversation as well. I am weary of the assertion that we cannot have great discussions about contemporary literature. And I would remind folks that the "timeless" books were all once "contemporary."

5. The next objection is that classics have withstood the test of time and are, by that virtue, better. Sigh. I would point to the YA books from the 60s and 70s as standing the test of time as well. They have been around for several generations of YA readers. But if it takes hundreds of years, then, NOPE, we will never measure up. But how sad that longevity in print is a consideration.

6. We are almost to the end when the author uses (and this is only 2 paragraphs in to this article) the terms "rigorous, relevant, and meaningful." Of course, only classics can meet these 3 criteria. I have written about this misconception that YA cannot be rigorous, relevant, or meaningful MANY times. I think it serves perhaps its own post--maybe tomorrow.

7. The final insult is that YA can be left to reading outside of the classroom. But using it in classes, especially AP classes? NOPE. Not good enough. Shove it aside. When we do that (shove it aside), we also shove readers aside. We tell them that their interests and preferences are not important. They reinforce the idea that the teacher is the SAGE ON THE STAGE. Only she or he has the answers about what a text truly means. *weeps*

More tomorrow, I promise. I am not done with this.
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The Crazy Musings of a Paladinrelena_wolf on September 26th, 2015 09:33 pm (UTC)
"[To teach the classics] takes more teacher preparation." Really? I find, among my colleagues, at least, that this is not generally the case. Many want to continue teaching the things they were taught because to do so allows them to fall back on both the ways they themselves were taught and the nearly endless resources on "classic" books. The books are often already in the book room and approved by admin, too. Teaching a new piece of YA, on the other hand, requires a teacher to do more work, not less. The books have to be ordered, if not also approved, and the teacher has to write the unit plans with far fewer resources (there are 700k hits for "How to teach Hamlet, the first page of which nearly all are curriculum guides or lesson plans; "How to teach Grasshopper Jungle" yields 237k results, with only 2 of the results on the first page being a link to a teaching website).

This kind of criticism sounds like "Well, she just want to teach YA because she loves it!," which begs the question, would these critics say the same of Shakespeare? Probably not. I also really want to send everyone who says YA can't teach allusions copies of Matched, Cinder, One Thing Stolen, Challenger Deep, The Alex Crow, etc.
penny kittlepennykittle on September 27th, 2015 12:26 am (UTC)
Thanks, Teri.
Thanks you, Teri, for reminding us, again, that people who discount YA haven't read a lot of it. I want to reply in the comments on the EdWeek article because the author misses so many important understandings about learning:

1. Teachers need to balance independent reading, opportunities for book clubs to form around student interests, and core texts they read together in order to increase the volume and the complexity of reading for all students. We cannot stick to one core text after another if we have any hopes of meeting the diversity of students we teach. We teach kids, not books.

2. We hold all kids back when we set the pace and determine the focus of reading. All students read more given time, choice, and response to their thinking. As Dick Allington said, "Older, struggling readers will never become proficient unless we dramatically increase the volume of reading that they do." Where's the evidence base that this traditional model is moving all readers forward?

3. We see all content areas shifting towards genius hour and embracing student interests and choices within content... progressive teachers are responding to the students they teach instead of creating one curriculum for all... but too often in English class, students are required to all do the same thing. And when they refuse? Too many teachers watch as students finish high school without reading a single book.

This article made me sad. But Teri gets me back on my feet joining the revolution.