“Uncommonly Bad” (excerpt)

Jane Robbins – National Association of Scholars Academic Questions, Spring 2013, Volume 26, Number 1

The advent of the Common Core State Standards has prompted a new discussion
about how to produce students who are “college- and career-ready.” But this question differs from the one that governed education throughout most of our history. We used to ask, what should a student know to become an educated citizen? Education would prepare one for college or career, certainly, but, more broadly, for life. What vision of education are we now advancing? As with parents and state legislators, academia has been largely excluded from this discussion…
…Should students read entire books? This is generally unnecessary, apparently, to get the flavor of the work and to have something to think critically about. Will Fitzhugh of The Concord Review notes this truncating feature of Common Core:

“Let us consider saving students more time from their fictional non-informational text readings (previously known as literature) by cutting back on the complete novels, plays and poems formerly offered in our high schools. For instance, instead of Pride and Prejudice (the whole novel), students could be asked to read Chapter Three. Instead of the complete Romeo and Juliet, they could read Act Two, Scene Two, and in poetry, instead of a whole sonnet, perhaps just alternate stanzas could be assigned. In this way, they could get the ‘gist’ of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, ‘grist’ for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.”39

A member of the “Implementing Common Core Standards” team at the Center for Teaching Quality argues that excerpts can be as educational as complete works:
“Not every student needs to read every word of every work. We can pull essential excerpts and examine them in small chunks–words, phrases, sentences–asking students to wrestle meaning from the text.”40
It is unclear how students can “wrestle meaning” from “words” or “phrases” wrenched cleanly from their context.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®