By: Linden Figgie
I’ve always been oddly passionate about what and how students should learn. With education at the forefront of local and national government, it isn’t hard to find a recent story on a new curriculum, strategy of standardization or pilot program. NPR recently posted an article on a new education program that already has 46 states and Washington D.C. on board. The article provides some of the program’s motives:
“The question is one stirring debate over how to integrate nonfiction works into English programs to improve reading scores, while not abandoning the novels that have become the gold standard of high school reading lists.”
The goal of improving standardized test scores is valiant, but is a stripping down of literature a necessary sacrifice? The Common Core Standards Initiative doesn’t directly target the students, teachers, or administration; rather it aims to standardize the literature itself. Accordingly:
“Under the new standards, by the last couple years of high school, about 70 percent of what students read across all subjects must be nonfiction.”
Yes, the days of such authors as George Orwell, Harper Lee or Barbara Kingsolver may be limited, or at least simplified in order to fit a broader range of writing, and not because of the writing itself (which is indeed equally as important as fiction), but because students are struggling to get into college. Maybe we should be focusing on getting students to read in the first place.
Perhaps it’s due to the fiction class I am currently enrolled in, paying for and most importantly, LOVING. Or maybe because I attribute most of my love of writing and reading to the fiction I read for my English classes in high school. But these things aside, I find it appalling that such a majority of leadership would see the solution to a low-score testing statistic to be in the removal of classic literature. Not to discredit the remarkable work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other nonfiction authors who would surface English teachers’ lesson plans, but fiction is at the core of how we articulate morals, character and hardship and relate it back either to our own lives or to new problems and situations. Fiction speaks universal truths about humanity and our relationships with one another.
The Common Core program brings an interesting topic to light for Christians. We may not be doing it consciously, but how often are we first reaching for the Bible over a textbook? Or a devotional over a magazine? While these are important works of writing, are we as contemporary Christians removing our most sacred text from the top of our reading list? Perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether or not to remove certain fiction from our education, but rather, have we already removed arguably the most important literature from our priority reads? While I cringe at admitting it, I certainly have failed to keep God’s Word at the center of my daily lessons. And despite the fact that the Bible will most likely never be on a teacher’s “must read” list in a public school, the education system should not determine how much of my time is spent in devotion and reflection on Christ’s teaching.