professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Critical Condition

I am in the process of developing a course for YALSA on the critical evaluation of YA literature along with my friend and colleague, Karin Perry. As someone who has served on more than a few committees charged with selecting best books (including Printz, Morris, Excellence in Nonfiction, Odyssey, Quick Picks, Edwards, Walden, Children's Choices, YA Choices, Teachers' Choices), I am reflecting first on what we mean by critical evaluation. Karin and I are pulling together resources, definitions, and other items to include in the course. We are fashioning some assignments. In short, we have both been rather preoccupied with this topic of late.

I have served on committees, though, where we were cautioned against the use of "I" statements. Basically, we were permitted to discuss anything in the book but without using that first person pronoun. So, we could say, "the plot contained a bit of a hole in it." But we could not say, "I believe there is a hole in this plot." It made me nuts during my tenure on those committees. I understood (one could understand is how I should phrase this, but really, ONE???) the rationale behind the rule: we should be commenting on the text and not on our personal response to the reading. I get that. I do. But sometimes this rule leads only to awkward phrasing and the use of that third person ONE in situations where it need not apply. For me, the real difference comes in something like this: "I hate fantasy." Or "I do not care for first person." These are "I" statements that have little or nothing to do with the merits of the book.

However, before I can move on to a more critical or evaluative stance, there is a need for me to respond on a personal level. I did this yesterday about my #bookaday THE BRONTE SISTERS by Catherine Reef.

bronte sisters

I posted it to Facebook and before long lots of folks were asking my opinion. Many of them were huge fans of the work of the Bronte sisters. I admitted that I did not care for their work, but I did love the work of Catherine Reef. Because I bring a dislike of the works of the artists to the book, and because the book drew me in and provided a terrific reading experience, I think I can add something to the more critical discussion which will follow.

And that brings me to this excellent post: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Common Core found here: This is a brilliant piece about the difference between a close reading a la David Coleman and CCSS and a critical reading (something we have known about for a while, not new, not less rigorous, not less deserving of being a standard). The final paragraph should be required reading for anyone who thinks they understand close reading as bring some venerated practice that elevates reading to a more rigorous activity.

"Critical literacy argues that students' sense of their own realities should never be treated as outside the meaning of a text. To do so is to infringe on their rights to literacy. In other words, literacy is a civil and human right; having your own experiences, knowledge, and opinions valued is a right as well. Despite praise for King's rhetoric, Coleman promotes a system that creates outsiders of students in their own classrooms."

On this day that celebrates the life and work of Dr. King, perhaps we should reflect on these words a bit more.

And if you have not listened to "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", here is a link to King reading the letter: and listen to Dion Graham's stirring audio as well. Here is a link to the audio which was available for free download this summer from YA Sync: If you are not familiar with YA Sync, remedy that, too.
Tags: ccss, close reading, critical literacy, critical reading, idiocy
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