Mark Bauerlein helped develop the Common Core standards in English. Now he fears the critics are right to say “high-quality fiction, poetry, theater and other imaginative texts” will be crowded out by non-fiction.
Only three literary works — Romeo and Juliet, T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men and a short poem about Gandhi by Langston Hughes — appear in the New York City Education Department’s 13 recommended units of study in English Language Arts/Literacy at the high school level, writes Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory.
Meanwhile, the site offers units on DNA and crime detection, “vertical farming,” digital media, European imperialism, great speeches and two on the civil rights movement.
The assigned texts include a speech by Bill Clinton, a Los Angeles Times story on teens and social media, the “Complete Personal Finance Guidebook,” photographs by Walker Evans and an entry on imperialism in the New Book of Knowledge.
Even when a topic is disposed to abundant and superb literary works, the Education Department has failed to include them. The unit on “Rites of Passage” — supposedly to be used in English classes — doesn’t opt for great tales of youth and adulthood such as “Jane Eyre,” “The Red Badge of Courage” or Richard Wright’s “Almos’ a Man.”
Instead, it chooses 10 pieces on teen rituals from The New York Times, USA Today, Fox Business, NPR and other news outlets.
The new standards’ framers wanted students to have “more general background knowledge, more broad familiarity with history, science, art and ideas — all of which would, among other things, enhance literary study,” writes Bauerlein. They called for teaching “foundational works of American literature.” Instead, he charges, New York City’s curriculum designers are turning English into a social studies class.