It all comes down to choice. And choice seems to be something that this new book believes is unnecessary. Instead, it argues for set canons: each school setting up lists of required texts for all students to read. The belief is that this common set of texts will allow for more insight and shared discussion.
"Having a canon also helps with lesson planning. 'We as teachers can have deep fundamental conversations not only about Animal Farm, but about how you introduce the third chapter and unlock the mystery at the end of the chapter,' said Lemov." In this scenario, the teacher is the leader of the reading. Her role is to introduce each chapter, to point out the salient features, and to make sure kids "get it," whatever IT is. Likewise, if all students are all reading the same books, the SHARING that takes place will, more than likely, be directed by the teacher.
Imagine a different environment, one where choice is encouraged. Here, it is the reader who makes the associations between and among books. This is actually something real readers do. As I read, I am making connections to other texts I have read. I talk about it when I discuss books with my friends and colleagues. And I know kids do the same; they connect across texts. In discussions in classrooms, you can hear a reader chime in when a classmate talks about a book with a contribution about a similarity (or sometimes a difference) in the text he or she is reading or has read.
Another argument for canons versus choice is an old one: cultural literacy. "And reading shared texts can help students build cultural capital, the authors argue. 'Members of the middle and upper-middle classes often take for granted knowledge that marks them as educated and sophisticated. They can hear a reference to Hamlet or Dickens or Zora Neale Hurston ... and join the conversation,' they write. 'A culture of reading that doesn't consider this cultural importance has a disparate impact on those who are less likely to acquire cultural knowledge by other means. It is their best chance to be included in the secret conversations of opportunity.' "
I suspect E.D. Hirsch has something to do with this. Remember all of those books from back when he was writing all those books about WHAT YOUR _____________ GRADER SHOULD KNOW? Here is the central problem of this argument about cultural literacy: WHOSE LITERACY gets valued? And that is part of the concern over CCSS as well. Are all literacies to be valued? If not, why not?
There are other little problems here, and they are firmly evident in Lemov's own words: "'If you've never read a document written before 1800 and expect to walk into [a college] environment and survive, that's a questionable endeavor,' said Lemov. " I do not know Lemov's experience at the university level, but I do wish for some more clarification here. I did not encounter pre-1800 literature much before I became an English major in college. I fared well, though, despite what he might term my deficiency. Lemov's assertion suggests that all college students will encounter ancient texts and then flub the course. I doubt that.
I will simply allow Donalyn Miller to bring this back full circle: "'Mandating a text for an entire grade level or school undermines teachers' autonomy, and may not be reflective of the needs, interests, or abilities of the children they serve from year to year,' Donalyn Miller, a veteran language arts teacher and the author of The Book Whisperer , a well-received pedagogical book that advocates using free-choice to inspire young readers, said in an interview. 'Thought leaders in progressive English education would universally question this.' " Yes, Donalyn, this Thought Leader questions why teachers would not allow choice for their own students knowing the research supports the importance of choice in developing lifelong readers. Seems to me, Lemov is more concerned with schooltime readers. However, if students do not extend their reading beyond the walls of the school, of what value is reading?
Let's champion CHOICE.