Opinion Column: the Common Core, a tale of two subjects

Nonfiction works trump literary classics (H. Margaret Slye / Lariat)

Melanie Roberts

Storytelling has been an integral part of education since humans began learning about the world in which they live. Literature has always been societally significant, until now.

The new Common Core Standards passed in 2013 may change the direction of English classes in a negative way, especially at the high school level.

The new California Common Core Standards for English are aiming to better prepare students for the curriculum in college courses by gearing high schoolers toward an expository reading and writing model rather than a literature based one.

According to an article by NPR, the new standard will incorporate historical documents, such as Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail and 70 percent of what students read must be nonfiction.

While the new standards won’t take away literature completely, I fear that with only so many school days, teachers won’t be able to get to everything. With the new model, it seems novels will be the first to be cut out.

Kevin O’Connor, dean of liberal arts at Saddleback College said the model is changing, because students entering colleges like Saddleback are not well prepared for the English courses at the college level. This lack of preparation then forces students into remedial courses, pushing them behind in their goals.

“[In college] the students are being asked to think critically and form their own positions on those ideas and facts and opinions that are discussed in the class and read in the materials,” O’Connor said.

He said that the essays students are asked to write in a college class are expository and are argument based. The old system creates disconnect between the two levels of English classes.

I agree that being put into remedial courses after graduating high school is unproductive, but I don’t think cutting literature is the answer. A solution may be that the literature pieces could be paired with historical aspects going on at the time of the piece and then related to modern times. That way, students would still be able to read fiction, but relating it to themselves would also allow them to write about and critically analyze their own surroundings.

O’Connor argues that if students are interested in literature, then they can explore it for themselves or declare an English major.

“If we help people become critical readers maybe more people over their life will pick up literature on their own,” O’Connor said. “A college composition course should not be a literature course, because your love of literature, if you have it, you can fulfill that by deciding to be an English major.”

I disagree that those are the only ways that students are able to fully experience literature. If literature is not experienced through novel or poetry at the high school level, then it is less likely to know whether or not an English major is right for someone.

However, there are many benefits to having an English degree, like O’Connor.

“[An English major] will prepare me for life,” O’Connor said. “When I read an email in 2013, I read carefully, quickly and astutely.”

While I don’t argue that nonfiction and giving students a chance to write about their own experiences is a good thing, I worry that the art of fiction will be lost. The majority of students will be denied the opportunity to experience works such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which teaches students issues and moral dilemmas that are still relevant to the human experience today.

For details on the Common Core Standards in English go to:

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy

For more from the npr article go to:

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/19/169798643/new-reading-standards-aim-to-prep-kids-for-college-but-at-what-cost

For info on California Common Core Standards go to:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/tl/whatareccss.asp

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