When I was in school we were required to take four years of English to graduate high school. During those classes we were exposed to some of the great writers: Chaucer, Dickens, Melville and more. My high school experience was a little weaker than some through no fault of my teachers and my appreciation for literature lay dormant until my early thirties when I began to reread some of the classics I missed in high school (thanks to Cliff Notes). Now I discover that literature in school may be taking a turn for the asinine thanks to our government and the enlightened policies of the last two administrations.
George W. Bush, in his feeble attempt to show his “compassionate conservative” side, created the “No Child Left Behind” act in 2001. The goal was to ensure all children access to quality education by setting standards that had to be reached to qualify for federal education funds. This was and is a worthy goal, however the fact that the federal government establishes the standards (in the interest of “fairness” of course) gives local school boards less leeway in deciding how their classes are structured.
Flash forward to 2009 and the “Race to the Top”. The national competition for federal funds set standards for states to meet and assigns point values to certain criteria. The states that do the best job of achieving the criteria get to split billions of dollars of federal education aid. Sounds noble doesn’t it? Well let’s zero in on one particular area and see where it is taking us.
Part of the criteria for Race to the Top is “Common Core State Standards” which attempts to bring state education curricula into alignment with each other. Sounds pretty good right? Well let’s see where this would take us if the developers of these standards have their way.
By gradually increasing the amount of “informational literature” in the requirements for classroom literature teaching, the government wants approximately fifty percent of reading lists to be comprised of these types of “literature”. This starts as a mere twenty-five percent requirement in kindergarten and rises to seventy percent in high school and includes some real literary gems.
Among the recommended reading is “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank, “Health Care Costs in McAllen Texas” and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management.” Who needs Moby Dick when you’ve got all those executive orders anyway?
As we head bravely into the middle of the twenty-first century we can rest easy knowing our kids will be well versed in such classics of literature as “The Evolution of the Grocery Bag” at the expense of “A Tale of Two Cities.” Is this an improvement in education? Does our government ever improve things when it meddles in our everyday lives? I think not but I’m becoming convinced I’m no longer in touch with our society and culture.
Call me Nauseated.