Letter to the Editor

Schools’ new literature standards: Read them and weep?

The Dec. 3 front-page article “New school lit standards make teachers smolder” ignited full-blown rage among my fellow educators and me. When are the nation’s youth ever going to be exposed to the finest writers if not in high school English classes?

Graduates tell me they remember the discovery of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as defining moments in their lifelong habits of reading and writing.

There will be plenty of time in their lives to struggle with “Fedviews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and “Executive Order 13423,” by the General Services Administration, both suggested nonfiction readings and both guaranteed to make even adult lifelong readers despise one of life’s greatest joys — that of reading. Surely those advocating the Common Core State Standards have lost their common sense.

Kathy Megyeri, Washington

Providing a good education can be such a simple process, and so many keep trying to make it so convoluted. The key to education is reading. If students enjoy reading, they will read. The more they read, the more they know and the more they learn to process and think about what they are reading. 

If you require students to read dull, boring material, the result will be they won’t. Instead of education being enhanced by this new “informational text” reading list, it will continue to decline.

Barbara Kropelin, Amherst, Va.

The major problem with the new Common Core State Standards is that they further diminish something that is greatly undermined from the moment we enter school: our creativity.

School essentially limits innovation. The best way to succeed in school is to repeat exactly what the teacher says. But the most effective way to express one’s creativity in school has always been through the reading of fiction.

Through novels, we can let our imaginations run wild, assign meaning to complex passages and have a chance to attack certain situations and moral dilemmas without living them. Reading fiction is an active, involved process.

Also, nonfiction rarely has any appeal to teenagers. For example, take “Executive Order 13423.” I doubt even the president of the United States could read that without falling asleep.

Karna Malaviya, McLean

What mean-spirited soul devised the new school literature standards? The goal for English teachers has to be to produce passionate, proficient lifelong readers. Which book is going to produce passion: “Animal Farm” or “Politics and the English Language”?

I’ve lived 80 years without reading Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (on the “informational text” list), and I haven’t missed it. “God’s Little Acre,” not the Declaration of Independence, made me passionate about reading when I was 14.

Deni Foster, Berwyn Heights

High schools use their English classes to teach pupils to analyze works and to write argumentative essays. The techniques of analysis are equivalent in fiction or nonfiction pieces: Determine the tone, mood and meaning through the use of rhetorical devices and syntax. Additionally, any esteemed source provides students with examples of how to present a convincing argument.

If nonfiction and fiction readings are used for the same purpose, it should not matter which teachers use to give their students these essential skills.

That said, it is important to maintain a balance between factual books and novels. For example, without reading Shakespeare and other classics, the next generation would fail to understand the numerous allusions found throughout college-level English literature and, indeed, our culture.

Anna Buser, McLean

The writer is a student at McLean High School.

Hmm. Which is more important: studying literature or learning from informational documents?

How about not posing a false choice? They are both important — indeed, central — to a good education. Fortunately, the solution appeared the same day as The Post reported on this issue, on Page A5, [“Five states to increase class time in some schools”]: more time in class and a longer school year. With more time for academics, students can have time to read works in both areas.

It’s rare that an important problem and a useful solution can be found in the same edition of the newspaper, but The Post seems to have done it on Dec. 3.

Herbert Lin, Washington

 
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