English teachers already have given up on teaching spelling, vocabulary, and grammar, Clifford complains. Creative writing has been “replaced with unending persuasive essays that are the darlings of the Common Core standards.”
Many schools teach reading as a set of skills to be mastered rather than as a journey to be embarked upon. Children are taught how to predict, to connect, to draw inferences, and so forth, but they are rarely allowed the leisure to savor what they read or to reflect on the art of good writing.
Until last year, his sixth graders conceived, wrote and illustrated a 20-page graphic novel, learning “story structure, characterization, use of dialogue, and exposition.” Now, as a result of Common Core standards, they must write an eight-page research paper, “filled with facts but devoid of imagination.”
The Common Core has already veered many schools away from narrative writing, or almost any type of creative writing at all. So what’s left to be picked from the remains of English study?
Starting this year, at least half of all reading in our schools is supposed to be non-fiction. And that includes kindergarten.
What makes matters even worse for later grades is that students already read non-fiction almost exclusively in all their other courses, so if you take science, social studies, and math into account, only one-eighth of student reading will be literary. And that fraction is likely to shrink in the future.
If algebra is dispensable, why not Austen? Clifford asks. Both can be difficult for some students: Graduation rates might rise if students didn’t need to struggle with algebra or Austen. Neither is essential for most jobs.