Who needs to read Frankenstein?

Students can discuss a book they’ve never read in the Common Core era, complains Terrence Moore. He looks at the treatment of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in The British Tradition, a Prentice-Hall textbook aligned to the new standards.

Of 17 pages devoted to the classic novel, three are written by Mary Shelley. These aren’t from the novel, but from an introduction about writing the novel.  “Advanced readers” who are “interested” might read a “segment” of the novel in order to compare the monster to Shelley’s description in her introduction, the Teacher’s Edition advises. Apparently, nobody else will read even part of the novel.

Two pages of the 17 are devoted to editor Elizabeth McCracken’s stories about “the scary movies she watched as a child, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as dreams she had,” writes Moore. Under “Critical Reading,” students are asked what movies McCracken watched as a child.

. . . teachers are encouraged to ask their students what “classic” stories of urban myths, tales of alien abductions, or ghost stories they have heard. Examples include stories of alligators in sewers, a man abducted for his kidneys, and aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Students are asked to write a paragraph on “one of these modern urban myths.”

. . . students are challenged to write “a brief autobiography of a monster.” The editors lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of “the humans confronting the monster.” They want to turn the tables by having students consider “what monsters think about their treatment.”

Actually, Frankenstein tells much of the story from the monster’s perspective, writes Moore. But students don’t know that because they haven’t read it.

Saturday Night Live parody of Frankenstein merits five pages of the book — two more than Shelley –under “Contemporary Connection.” After discussing the show, the gifted students are supposed to obtain props, costumes and make-up that will enable them to “take roles and do a dramatic reading” of the script.

No wonder there’s no time to read the book.

Moore, a Hillsdale College history professor, is the author of The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Ugh. Especially since Frankenstein addresses issues like what makes us human, what responsibility does a scientist have for the results of his research, what it means to be a creator…….

    Common Core-compliant texts sound like torture. And it would take LESS time to read the book than to do all those projects!

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Also, why is it considered better to let the text book draw connections to real life experiences for the students than it is to have them draw connections on their own?

      It’s like with each cycle of reform and accountability, the ‘critical thinking’ exercises become even more removed from actual critical thinking.

  2. You’re right, Deirdre, it’s just another attempt to change literature (along with history, language and even math) from “what the author really wrote” (or what actually happened or the real result of a math problem) into how students feel about it or how their teachers tell them to react to it.

    It’s almost Orwellian: “Critical thinking” has become either “not thinking, just feeling” or “thinking just how you’ve been told”.

    And who in their right mind conflates “prototypical science fiction novel that is also excellent literature” with “urban legend”?

  3. cranberry says:

    My children read _Frankenstein_ in high school. I’ll have to ask when and how their classes covered it, but I think they referred to Beowulf and/or the Romantic poets. (Which works they had read.)

    Do you think writing about Roswell, New Mexico, falls under the heading of “nonfiction essay?”

    What makes reading the text aloud a “gifted” exercise?