December 9, 2012

Of the six Dec. 6 letters addressing the so-called “new school lit standards” controversy, only one (from a high school student!) argued for a balance of reading between fiction and nonfiction as a means of teaching students the art of expository writing. The remaining writers seem to have overlooked the observation made by the chief architect of the Common Core Standards that the new nonfiction reading goals are to be applied “across all subjects, not just in English class,” as The Post reported.

As a part-time instructor of graduate students at a Washington-area university, I can attest that far too many students even at this level lack analytical expository writing skills. I fear that this results, at least in part, from students not having been exposed to this kind of writing regularly in our schools.

Nevertheless, I agree that the burden of teaching nonfiction texts should not fall entirely on English teachers; this task needs to be undertaken by math, science, history and social studies teachers, too — even if they don’t like it. But the task of applying this kind of goal across all subjects points to another problem that must be overcome if we are to provide children with a balanced education: English, math, science, history, and social studies teachers must communicate with each other and coordinate reading (and writing) assignments. And school administrators must establish structured ways of ensuring this happens.

How can we expect our youth to receive a balanced education when each discipline remains walled and teachers are concerned only about how their own subject matter is taught?

Donald J. Winstead, Winchester