California’s new recommended reading list of books for English, science and socials studies teachers is so inclusive and “relevant” that it’s useless writes Mark Bauerlein on Core Knowledge Blog.
Recommended Literature: Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve will help students meet Common Core Standards, claims the state education department. Bauerlein disagrees.
. . . the list is too long and too indiscriminate. It contains 7,800 titles—2,500 for grades 9 – 12 alone—and it sets dozens of classics among thousands of contemporary, topical titles without distinction. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is followed by Macho, a 1991 tale of an illegal immigrant who becomes a field worker. Little Women makes the list, but the description of it says nothing about its historical status. Every work gets the same treatment, a one-sentence statement of content. The field is overwhelmingly wide and it has only one level, ranking Leaves of Grass, Huck Finn, etc. equal to pop culture publications.
Common Core Standards call for students to “demonstrate knowledge” of the ‘foundational works of American literature,” such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Bauerlein writes. The California list buries the classics in a pile of pop lit. The Iliad is on the list. So is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code
Students who’ve read trendy modern books won’t be prepared for college, Bauerlein writes.
When professors in U.S. history, sociology, or political science mention the American ideal of self-reliance, those who have read Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, and Washington have a decided advantage over those who haven’t. . . . Many contemporary works are superb, of course, but they do not provide the background learning that goes with Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre, and 1984. And few of them, too, contain the exquisite sentences of Gatsby, the piercing metaphors of Blake, the characters of Flannery O’Connor . . .
. . . How much of our understanding of the Depression comes from The Grapes of Wrath, of the American South circa 1930 from William Faulkner, of old New England from Hawthorne?
“A more culturally relevant curriculum” gives students ” a thin and haphazard version of the culture they inhabit,” Bauerlein concludes.