Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's killing the humanities: addendum

Any discussion of what's killing the humanities should really begin with what's killing the humanities in K12 education. Here the culprits aren't Postmodernism, but Constructivism (everything from "balanced literacy" to "text-to-self" references to "multiple literacies"); not concerns about future employment, but the insistence on college for all (making everyone, regardless of reading level, take the same college prep English classes); and not the Tenure Treadmill, but the Common Core.

Consider, courtesy , Standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2. :

Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text. English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 11-12
Or consider CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5:
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Talk about taking the joy out of reading. Analyzing the Common Core author's choices, we see all the trappings of choices "by committee." They are hopelessly vague, mind-numbingly boring, poorly written, and out of touch with gritty reality.

While specific incarnations of these goals vis a vis specific works of literature might make for inspiring essay topics for some students, in most incarnations in most classrooms these goals will bore everyone concerned. Much more engaging is what good teachers do already: instead of starting with a Generalized Standard and trying to figure out how to shoehorn it into whatever students are reading, let the Particular Work of Literature drive the possible essay topics.

No one willingly reads in order to "analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text contribute to its aesthetic impact;" nor does being forced to do so make you a better reader or writer. And it certainly doesn't inspire you to continue taking literature courses in college.

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