Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.
Over the next few days, I am going to try to tackle this article a paragraph at a time. I likened it (the article) in a Facebook post on Monday to the monkey cage where there is a great deal of flinging going on. Makes it tough to discuss rationally when you are ducking what the monkeys are hurling.
I am just flat out weary at the charge that the books we offer kids have been somehow "easy." As I read CODE NAME VERITY a few months ago, I wondered how many other readers struggled with it from time to time. The setting and time period jumps back and forth; the narrator (or is it narrators) are unreliable; there are more twists and turn than Lombardo Street in San Francisco. Yet, the reading level is 6.5, and I shudder to think this book would then be handed to a 4th or 5th grader (for this is what the range is in CCSS documents for that grade level). John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is 5.5 making it within the range for 3rd and 4th grade according to CCSS. I would never call this an "easy" read, however. Ditto SERAPHINA, a 6.0 reading level. Why these three? These are all books that have received six starred reviews this year, books deemed the most noteworthy. They are also complex stories which require not just good reading skills but life experiences, knowledge of conventions and motifs and archetypes and the like. In short, they demonstrate the fact that YA is not some sort of pablum that will not nourish readers.
As for the ability to read and understand reports and the like, Texas curriculum has included these aspects of literacy for dozens of years if not more. It seems to me as well that this is the domain of content areas: science, history, math, etc. There has been a great deal of push back for this over the more than 30 years I have been an educator. If it is a "reading" skill, then it belongs in ELA cuirriculum has been the way that argument has proceeded. Even now, with CCSS calling for more of the NF instruction to happen in content areas, it still seems to be falling to ELA teachers instead. And one more little bone here: how can I possibly teach how to read all the different types of reports someone might come across in her or his future career? According to the research I am reading, 40% of the jobs our kids will have are jobs that DO NOT EXIST right now. So, pray, tell me, please, how can I prepare kids for that? And is that the purpose of what I do as a teacher of literature? And why is literature so undervalued?
Now to the word 'RIGOR." Most often associated with the phrase rigor mortis (thanks to my friend David Gill for this), rigor has come to mean more when applied to books. Seems to me the synonyms are more along the lines of "obtuse" or "incomprehensible."
OK, that is all for today. I will address some of the other things being flung in future posts.