December 8, 2012

As a recently retired high school teacher with 43 years of experience in social studies and English, I agree with Sandra Stotsky [“New school lit standards make teachers smolder,” front page, Dec. 3] that studying literature is the best way to prepare young people for college and work and that young-adult literature is contributing to the decline in reading — as is, I would add, too much screen time. 

Obviously, nonfiction is important, and most nonfiction assigned to students should be part of social studies and science curricula. It may be that reading as preparation for class and a means of assessment has been replaced by fads such as role-playing, hands-on projects, cooperative learning, interactive lessons — all of them excellent experiences if they do not preclude reading and writing vigor. However, teachers who get evaluated only twice a year might overuse some of these practices so that they will be found on evaluation day to be innovative.

I also believe that science and social studies teachers are finding that a significant number of students have difficulty with texts because they are poor or resistant readers. Fearing mass failure and perhaps running into parental objections to homework, teachers decide to “talk” their students through the course. 

It has been my experience that history is the opportune curriculum for research papers — yes, old-fashioned documented essays about events that have multiple interpretations. I would add that there is no better way to teach students to support ideas with evidence than to require thematic, text-driven and documented essays about serious literature.

I wonder how often the experiences and concerns of significant numbers of classroom teachers are considered in reforming education.

Lynn Kearney, Arlington