Defending Captain Underpants Against David Coleman

In exploring for my last post,  I came across a Diane Ravitch post examining David Coleman, and David Coleman posted a response to her comments.  The part that caught my attention is this:

To clarify, when we say there is an increased focus on “informational text” which I agree is not the most beautiful word, we mean that in elementary there is more time for history, science and the arts – along with a rich exploration of literature in those grades. In later grades, a great deal of informational text is explored in classrooms in history, social studies, science and technical subjects. In 6-12 grade ELA, the only change is that there is more room for literary non-fiction, although the classroom remains focused on literature.

Now here is the irony:  Mr. Coleman is now president of the College Board, creator of Advanced Placement, and I am going to use my AP Lang teacher skills to dissect his words.

ImageWhen Mr. Coleman states that there is “more time” at the elementary school for “history, science, and the arts,” please note two things: one is that the arts he is referring to are not opportunities to paint, dance, or sing, as the testing movement curtailed those significantly, but rather proposed reading about those activities; and two is that there are no time turners in elementary schools, except in the pages of Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban.  There is no “more time for X” without there being “less time for y.”   What gets sacrificed to read those informational texts?

In both the Ravitch post and the NYT article, David Coleman’s opposition of literature is pointed out.  This opposition is further echoed by others in the movement (see my last post). 

In some ways I do not object.  I watch my children, 8 and 10, get intrigued by many non-fiction books, though I wonder if a favorite, Poop Happened, would ever make the Common Core’s recommendations list.

But I think about this week when I helped my son’s Cub Scout meeting learn about libraries and genres of books.  Each child had to bring his favorite book and we did a tally of books according to genre and then a culminating post-it note chart of genres.  In the end, fantasy books had 8 “votes”, realistic fiction had one, and informational text had one.  Strange that when kids choose favorite books, no one brought the Common Core’s recommended books about whales or senses of Ben Franklin.

ImageKids fall in love with reading with Captain Underpants, a book held up by one boy.  They love the oddities in My Wierd School.  And the super readers catch fire with Harry Potter.

Kids love fiction.  They fall in love with reading because of stories.  Sports stories (fictional and informational). Ghost stories.  Animal stories.   Literature matters, as this great argument in makes.

In the end, I agree with Eric Ferencs as posted in a comment here, when he asserts there is a more important bottom line.  All we should really be concentrating on is teaching kids to love reading:

As an English teacher, I have found a strong connection between student writing and students’ reading for pleasure. Students who read because of a love of reading perform better on written assessments that their non-reading counterparts. We must teach students to love to read. It does not matter if we focus upon literature or informational texts. Such categorization may sound professional and appropriate in a government report, but it fails to recognize the most difficult and pertinent of hurdles: teaching a student to love to read.

We may lambast the common core. We may embrace it. But, we must prioritize. This article reeks of bureaucratic language that only alienates teachers, parents, and students alike. You want results? Teach them to love reading. That’s the truth.           



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