In a critique (pdf) of the proposed common-core English Language Arts standards, the National Council of Teachers of English favors self-expression over college (and career) readiness, writes Mark Bauerlein on Education Next. While the core standards project worries about the high college dropout rate, NCTE dismisses “readiness.”
“The standards speak to ‘college and career’ readiness. However, there are important dimensions of education beyond these two domains. Purposes for writing include self-expression; releasing the imagination; creating works of art; developing social networks; engaging in civic discourse; supporting personal and spiritual growth; reflecting on experience; communicating professionally and academically; building relationships with others, including with friends, family, and other like-minded individuals; and engaging in aesthetic experiences. Most important perhaps is education for social and civic participation.
A central purpose of education—and certainly literacy education—has been to create citizens who understand and evaluate complex situations within societies and to influence the democratic process ethically, responsibly, and effectively. Much reading and writing in college centers on the public good, with students frequently asked to produce texts that address various publics, not only other academics.”
College professors aren’t asking for students who can express their feelings or “develop social networks,” Bauerlien writes. ”Personal and spiritual growth” isn’t a priority. Professors desperately want “clear sentences and coherent paragraphs.”
They want students to observe rules of grammar and adopt a style adequate to communicating an idea, describing an event, summarizing an argument, or analyzing a thesis. They want English teachers to improve student grammar and style so that they don’t have to. They don’t want to fix writing. That’s an exhaustive, labor-intensive activity, and it takes precious minutes away from course content. They want to impart their subject and assess students’ knowledge of it. Self-expression, imagination, relationships . . . they’re all wonderful, but they don’t mean a thing if the verbal mechanics aren’t in place.
Students who can write clearly, argue forcefully and analyze a thesis are not barred from using their writing skills to express themselves or advocate for the public good, as they see it.