I just read an encouraging article pertaining to the new Common Coress emphasis on nonfiction. Due to the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction, many schools’ curriculum has replaced classic novels with nonfiction. Many ELA teachers are complaining about these new standards and it has reached the authors of the Common Core. Their reply clears a lot of things up for ELA teachers. They note that this new emphasis of nonfiction is on only for ELA teachers, but applies across the board. What they essentially want is for other subjects, Math, History, Science, to have more readings. If these other subjects do start using assigning more readings, then ELA teachers need not replace any fictions.
What is interesting though is a teacher’s comment of how if the authors of the Common Cores wanted this to be clear, “why are those critical instructions buried in a footnote in a 60-plus page primer on the Common Core?” I found this question to be very intriguing. Why DID they hide such an important note? I wonder if it was really their intention, that other subjects assign readings, or if this was a kind of contingency note in case ELA teachers complain about this transition. Aside from history, and maybe science, I cannot think of many ways for Math and Science teachers to assign more readings. I guess one good way is to assign research and projects. I remember my high school physics teacher requiring us to to do a research paper on different scientific theories relating to physics. This was a way for students to read more nonfiction literature. But how do you keep track of this? What about lower grades who do not have to do research projects? How will nonfiction be introduced to them?
This knowledge requires a kind of interdisciplinary collaboration. In order to know whether or not other subjects are meeting the reading standards, ELA teachers probably have to meet with other subject teachers to discuss about reading material. While I love effective interdisciplinary collaboration, I can see issues that might arise. Who will be in charge and hold this meetings and make sure everyone is doing their part? Will it be the principle? The superintendent? Or maybe the ELA teachers? What if their are disagreements on who will increase their nonfiction reading load and who will not? I think in the end, the task of increasing their nonfiction intake falls on ELA teachers will probably. But knowing this, we can at least be a little at ease and our curriculum can be a little more flexible.
In a recent blog post by Sachal Afraz which he titled “The trouble with academia: Write to impress or write to express?” he questions the academic paradigm. He notes how “We are teaching university students that the language they use must consist of ‘impressive’ vocabulary and sentences must have academic syntax. The result is a fake, pretentious manner of prose that the author constructs to appease teachers and hit the word-limit while sounding ‘academic’. “ His discussion reminds me of our class discussion of “standard English” and my own experience in academia. I remember my college freshman year when I had to write my first English paper, I would often use the thesaurus in order to replace words I thought to be “high school” words with bigger words that I thought to be “college” words. This created more stress for me and restricted me from expressing my true thoughts.
Afraz also notes that “Compulsive use of difficult vocabulary is compared to the young actor who overacts just to show off his entire range of expressions.” There have been many academic articles that I have read through the years that used complex and difficult “standard English.” Thinking back, it feels as though their purpose was more to impress than express, as Afraz notes.
Afraz also points to a TED talk of Sir Ken Robinson where he suggests that the current academic paradigm is outdated. Sir Robinson notes that the current academic system is industrially based and that it follows a factory model (ringing bells, separate facilities, specialization, etc). He states that the current academic follow is an economic platform and is not suitable for this age, because the economic future is uncertain. He notes that it used to follow that if you work hard and go to college and graduate, you will get a good job. But this is no longer the case as jobs are no longer guaranteed after college. He suggests that we must focus on divergent thinking, which is kind of like thinking outside the box. He mentions a study where a group of kids were tested on their ability to think divergently. The study first tested them when they were in kindergarten and found that 98% of them would be considered “geniuses” and as they got older, that percentage got lower and lower.
I believe as future educators, we must follow the advice of Sir Robinson and Afraz. When teaching, we must allow and encourage our students to think divergently. When they write, we must deemphasize their need to impress, but allow them to express their own ideas in their own ways.
In an editorial by Leslie S. Rush and Lisa Scherff titled “Maintaining Collegiality in Tough Times,” the authors note the joys of collegiality and community while being an English teacher and their fear newcomers’ mischance of experiencing those joys. They note, “Both the climate—high-stakes testing, standardized accountability, attacks on teachers’ unions—and the weather—adaptations of state and district curricula to meet Common Core State Standards, cuts to personnel and school budgets, increasingly prevalent use of value-added measures of teacher evaluation—are threatening the collegiality, collaboration, and joy that should be part of teaching.” With national news of strikes in Chicago, the “climate” and “weather” seems to be getting worst. It seems that new teachers have many standards to teach and many goals to reach. The newcomers are met with so much pressure that it is hard to maintain a collaborative environment that the authors seem to adore. With so much on their plate, how can they have time to worry about collegiality?
Ironically, the authors note how spending extra time to maintain that collegiality by attending seminars, meetings, and conferences would help take off that pressure of standards and goals and bring back the joy they had experience as teachers. Going to these events will bring about new ideas and new ways of teaching. This is a touch commitment to keep in this day in age. The authors failed to take account for the newcomers’ way of life, which is quite different from their own. We, as possible newcomers to the English arena, live a life that is at a much faster pace and at a much greater demand than our predecessors. We as a generation motivated by trends are not as committed as our previous generation. We are 21st century Jack Sparrows, constantly jumping ships and seeking greater adventures. Our life demands of this. But to become English teachers, to take extra time and care into a curriculum that meets tough standards and goals, to take even more time to attend these events to stay collegial? Is that even worth it all?
The authors do mention another alternative; social networking. They note the many social networks out there that can help teachers collaborate better. Facebook, twitter, or websites such as NCTE are gold mines for teachers to become more collaborative. This seems to fit more for teachers of a newer generation as it is an on-demand kind of resource. But when it comes down to it, the white elephant in the room is commitment. In a generation where commitment is a dying practice, be it marriage, religion, politics, or even careers, how will we, the new generation of teachers, face these problems? How committed are we willing to be?