Recently I’ve had an old annoyance flare up. I know what you are thinking and I don’t need any ointment… this annoyance irritates in other ways. The argument goes something like this: students need more exposure to informational texts so that they might be college and career ready. By itself this statement is completely innocuous, some of you might even say it was true. Here’s the thing I would agree with you if it were not for subtext.
You see, subtext is one of the very reasons that we study literature (a bigger conspiracy theorist than me might argue that CCCS doesn’t want you thinking about subtext). What happens when the Common Core standards demand more informational texts is that principals, who are exhausted from filling out a 90 page document explaining how they are going to hold their teachers accountable for their students’ performance on state tests, call their English teachers into a meeting.
At that meeting the principal tells the English department that they need to get more informational texts into their curriculum and they need to do it now. If this is happening here, it is happening in other places. As good as the Common Core’s intentions might be it is no secret that they have been adopted with the delicacy of a buckshot loaded into the sawed off shotgun that is APPR.
I’m tired of defending literature and its usefulness in college and career, just like I am tired of advocating for that extra music or art class. I’m terrified of what will become of culture if all we are reading are stereo instructions, I don’t care how well we cite them. Here is why we need literature… for the same reason that we sing songs or paint pictures or write (gasp) narrative, because it is beautiful. Regardless of your affection or loathing for Shakespeare it is undeniable that his themes are transcendent and it only requires a modicum of creativity to make these themes come alive to students. Literature affords one of the few opportunities that we have to discuss big ideas with kids and as it continues to lose ground to only those pieces of text that demonstrate some abject utility, the more soulless a race we become.