As many of us have seen, the predominant literature in many educational publications recently has been about the Common Core, and most specifically, around ELA and non- fiction texts. As I prepare to enter my 20th year in education, I am astounded by the groups which continue to promote the “pendulum effect” for our teachers. Those would be the extremists that cry, “All reading in the Common Core era must be non-fiction, no more fictional texts”.
I wonder if some of us have lost the good judgment which led us to be educators to begin with. Do we really think that the Common Core is advocating for not engaging in fictional texts with students? Will our students get the education they deserve when we make radical departures from what we know best meets student needs?
As a young educator and teacher, I read the book, Touch Magic by Jane Yolen. In her book, Jane wrote a collection of essays about how important traditional and imaginative stories are for children, and why. I will never forget how I felt when I put that book down after reading it. I was sad at that time, thinking about the loss of mythological knowledge our children were suffering from, specifically at the hands of missed curricular opportunities. When I say missed curricular opportunities, I mean the absence of coordinated curriculum which would ensure that our students got a well-rounded education. Curricular opportunities where robust teaching would provide them the opportunity to engage in a variety of texts that would not only satisfy their curiosity about how the world works in non-fiction texts, but those lessons learned about how the world works in myths, folk-tales, fairy tales, and fables. If you were a student that was lucky enough to have a teacher that provided both non-fiction texts and fictional texts, it was like winning the educational lottery.
I was delighted many years later as an administrator to see the implementation of Common Core standards as a way to ensure that children had consistent, predictable experiences in English Language Arts that would provide them a strong foundation in both reading and writing. I continue to be excited about those opportunities, yet, I am concerned about the extremists that whisper in the ear of teachers, harkening them to listen to their slanted views of the Common Core and what that means for our children.
Have we lost the common sense and good judgment that is needed to provide students with a well-rounded education? The Common Core does not say that students should be denied fictional literature. The underlying premise of the Common Core standards in reading is that students are well rounded and exposed to a variety of literature that will lead to their success. That success lies in teachers and administrators using good judgment and reasonable interpretation of the Common Core standards for reading. Our work should not be about the OR, meaning non-fiction OR fiction, but rather the AND, quality fiction AND non-fiction texts, coupled with great teaching about how to navigate and interpret those texts. And dare I say, shouldn’t we also provide students the opportunity to read books for enjoyment. Shouldn’t we allow them to read about insects, and space exploration, and also about the Fox and the Crow, and Little Red Riding Hood?
Isn’t there room to help students learn how to navigate texts that are rich in information, and also those that provide other information, such as the importance of listening to one’s parents, or lessons learned by venturing out too far in the world, or learning a morale when faced with a dilemma?
In her book Touch Magic, Jane Yolen noted that;
“One of the basic functions of myth and folk literature is to provide a landscape of allusion. With the first story a child hears, he or she takes a step toward perceiving a new environment, one that is filled with quests and questers, fated heroes and fetid monsters, intrepid heroines and trepid helpers, even incompetent oafs who achieve competence and wholeness by going out and trying. ”
For those people perpetuating the pendulum swing once more in a totally opposite direction from what is intended by the Common Core, I hope they regain their “common sense” around what the Common Core can do for our children, and what we owe our children through good teaching, the use of common sense, and what will provide them with a well-rounded, rich experience with both non-fiction and fiction texts.
Our children will only get the education they need and deserve when the adults teaching them realize the value of balance, patience, and common sense.
Artwork created by Illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, from Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood