Reading list is diverse, inclusive and useless

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 GrassHuck 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.

Bullying books

Publishers are “flooding the market” with books on bullying, reports the New York Times.

The books are aimed at all age groups — from “Bully,” a picture book for elementary-grade students, to the “The Bully Book,” for middle school children, about an average kid who suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite victim, to Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon, a recent release for adults that includes both stories and analysis.

. . . Two young-adult authors, Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, assembled an anthology of personal essays, called Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories(HarperTeen 2011) by prominent writers like R. L. Stine, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity.

I don’t remember much bullying from my school days. I never was a victim.

Anyhow, here’s a review of Sticks and Stones.

Without books at home, few read well

Children raised in low-income families have few age-appropriate books in their homes, according to First Book, which gives books to disadvantaged children to encourage reading.  The infographic is based on research by Susan Neuman, co-author of Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance.

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Haves and the Have-Nots

Education reform starts with reading, writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. He supports Common Core standards’ recommendation that 70 percent of all high school reading be non-fiction. Students can analyze literature in English class and think critically about informational text in social studies, science, math and arts classes, he writes. That will help the 44 percent of high school students who can’t truly comprehend what they read, according to NAEP.

The vast American lumpenproletariat

Taking social class into account, U.S. students are doing better than it seems on international tests, compared to students in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland and Korea, according to a study by Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein. “U.S. students’ scores are low in part because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students come from disadvantaged social class groups,” they argue.

Stuff and nonsense, responds Paul Peterson in Education Next.  The Carnoy-Rothstein studied ignored family income, which is just as high in the U.S. as in the comparison countries. It uses one factor to determine social class:  The number of books 15-year old students estimate are in their home.

Only 18 percent of U. S. students say they have many books in their home; in the other countries this percentage varies between 20 percent and 31 percent. In the United States 38 percent say they have few books in their home. In the other countries, this percentage varies between 14 percent and 30 percent.

Students’ estimates of book in the home is a good predictor of student achievement, writes Peterson. But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue.

. . . reports of books in the home may be as much a consequence of good schools and innate student ability as an independent cause of student achievement. Students who find it easy to read are likely to report more books in their home, because they are more aware of them. Students attending an effective school are more likely to be good readers who are then aware of the resources at home. Countries that expect students to perform well on a national examination when they finish secondary school may induce higher rates of reading than countries that do not set clear standards for high school students.

Only 14 percent of Korean students come from few-book homes, compared to 38 percent of U.S. students, and 31 percent of Korean students come from homes with many books, while only 18 percent of American students do. It’s “bizarre” to assert that Korea’s upper class is nearly twice as large as in the U.S., and that our lower class is nearly triple the size of Korea’s, writes Peterson. The U.S. does not have a vanishing bourgeoisie and a vast proletariat.

The study encourages people to think that U.S. schools are just fine — except for inner-city schools, which face an impossible challenge because the kids’ homes are no good, Peterson writes. Good reading habits — which schools can do something about — “are much more important to achievement than family income and other measures of social class.”

Latino kids don’t see themselves in books

Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books, according to the New York Times.  Hispanic students make up nearly a quarter of public school students, but only a small fraction of characters in books for elementary students.

The main characters in the most popular books are white with African-American, Asian or Hispanic characters more likely to appear in supporting roles.

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” said Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago.

She and Sandy Ruvalcaba Carrillo, an elementary school teacher in Chicago who works with students who speak languages other than English at home, reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year, found that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that has not changed much in a decade.

Common Core State Standards’ list of suggested books for early elementary students contains black characters and authors, but few Latinos. More will be added, said Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers. “We are determined to make this right.”

“Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant,” reports the Times. I think that means there is no evidence. But that doesn’t stop academics from worrying that kids will feel alienated “if all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the Magic Treehouse series who are white and go on adventures.” (What about white kids who don’t have a magic treehouse that provides adventures?)

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Blake read from “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman, about a daughter of migrant workers. Of all the children sitting cross-legged on the rug, only Mario said that his mother had worked on farms.

However, a book that colors every fourth child brown may be accused of tokenism.

As a reading tutor, I see a lot of books for young children that feature animals — especially cats, bats and rats. They sit on mats and try on hats. Humans are named Nan, Fran, Pam, Sam, Tam, Tim and Sim. It’s not a rich cultural milieu for children of any background. I can tell you what little girls of all colors and creeds long to read: the Pinkalicious series. Sadly, my kids can only handle “tan” and “red.”

A good book is a good book is a good book,” writes author Nikki Grimes in Color Me Perplexed. “The single most important question we should ask when considering a book for our classroom or library shelves is, is the book any good?”

When I was researching Our School (which makes a lovely holiday gift), I saw students from Mexican immigrant families fall in love with Harry Potter books. The kids weren’t British or pale skinned. They weren’t wizards either. They liked the story.

‘Our new math book . . . ‘

Our new math book not only remediates, diagnoses, analyzes, and tests, it … - Cartoon Premium Giclee Print

From David Sipress cartoons at the Condé Nast Collection.

Must-read-aloud books for little kids and parents

Mike Petrilli suggests the kindergarten canon, must-read-aloud books for little kids.

One of the great joys of parenthood is reading to my two young sons. Partly it’s the visceral experience: Little guys curled up on my lap, in their PJ’s, soft light overhead, the day winding down, sleep coming (well, one can hope). But it’s also about the books: An endless treasure trove of stories to share, pictures to enjoy, traditions to pass along.

Here’s his full list, which includes some of my old favorites: Goodnight Moon (I read this every night or recited it from memory), Corduroy and, from my childhood, Caps for Sale and Blueberries for Sal. And lots of others, of course.

Welcome back, dead white males

Welcome back, dead white males  writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor of English, in a New York Daily News op-ed. Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states plus D.C., require students to “demonstrate knowledge of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century foundational works of American literature,” as well as foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence. It’s about time, writes Bauerlein.

For bookish types and patriotic citizens, too, the canon of Ben Franklin’s “Autobiography,” Emerson’s essays, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Huck Finn” is a personal inspiration as well as a sacred heritage.

But to the people in control of high school English — those who craft standards, select anthologies, monitor curricula and teach classes — that great tradition is not a treasure. It’s a threat.

Until the 20th century, they note, nearly all authors were white males, and the cultures in which they thrived cast females and people of color as inferior.

In the last 30 years, high school students have read quota-driven anthologies instead of classic literature, Bauerlein writes.

We’re told that female, black and brown students must encounter inspiring female, black and brown characters and authors — or else they won’t realize that they can become successful adults.

English teachers have to comply, whether they like it or not. Common Core gives teachers “a solid defense against identity quotas in the classroom,” Bauerlein writes.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.

Book killer

Crafts maven Lauren Conrad demonstrates what BuzzFeed calls The Worst Craft Idea Ever, dismembering hardcover books to use their spines to create a “unique” storage box. She suggests using the pages as wallpaper.

Author Lemony Snicket, one of whose books was dismembered in the video, told Slate:

 “It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence. What a relief it is to see this documented.”

Conrad, who apparent got her start on a reality TV show, has taken down the YouTube video.

Young-adult books? Or kids’ books?

What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? asks NPR in its summer books poll. Votes are coming in from adults as well as teens, reports Atlantic Wire.

Readers can choose 10 books from a list that includes “Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson; Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; the Betsy-Tacy books; the Anne of Green Gables series, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy; and Judy Blume’s Forever.”

In a post, NPR’s Petra Mayer explains she cut A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie, many Judy Blume books and Where the Red Fern Grows, as  “too young” for the category, which includes readers 12 through 18 years old. But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read in sixth grade, was excluded for being too mature.

The panelists aimed to include books like Catcher in the Rye, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which have been essentially “claimed by teens” but weren’t initially intended for them.

I‘m not sure Catcher and Lord of the Flies have been claimed by teens. They’ve been assigned to teens. (Count me among those who thought Holden Caulfield was a whiny brat, even when I was 16.)

The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (teens with terminal cancer fall in love) are front-runners in the poll, so far. The top 100 teen books as selected by readers will be posted on Aug. 8.

Is Encyclopedia Brown Young-Adult Literature? asks Ed Week Teacher, responding to a Flavorwire list of the 10 greatest young-adult series of all time.

The cultural news site included The Time Quintet, the Redwall SeriesThe Earthsea Cycle, and the Artemis Fowl books among their top picks, but excluded The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lord of the RingsHarry Potter and The Hunger Games because, according to the editors, they’re already “so well established” and don’t need to be on a “list like this…”

Commenters are debating the line between children’s books and young-adult books.