This article, "Death to the Classics!", which was the headliner for today's NCTE Inbox, isn't quite as sensationalist as it sounds. Though it mentions multiculturalism and adding women and minority voices to traditional canons as though it was/is a "fad" and seems to downplay the importance of media texts like film, it does offer a variety of perspectives on canons and acceptable reading in k-12 classroom.
The rhetoric from some of those quoted, however, gives the piece an ominous, reactionary tone. NCTE president-elect/ Maker-of-the-members-to-be-saying "Can I take Back My Vote, Please" Carol Jago is at it again, claiming teachers have just given up on teaching canonical texts.
It's as if she's asserting, "If they would just try harder, they could get those kids reading at the second grade level in those 12th grade classrooms to read and understand every word of Moby Dick." Got no fluency? Take you ten minutes to read a 100 word paragraph? Buck up; there's magic somewhere that'll fix it all: teachers just gotta scrounge around for it.
One of the first lessons I learned as a classroom teacher in a class full of struggling readers is that there is no magic wand that makes it all better. Effort and motivation are important, yes. But the "you just gotta try harder and that's it" argument is meeting one form of ignorance (not knowing, as in not knowing how to read successfully) with another (blind, stupid stubbornness).
I am beginning to know what it would feel like if Sara Palin was ever sworn in to office.
Anyone know if Jago can see Russia from her house?
Some sort of researcher (it is never clarified what she researches) Sandra Stotsky is "horrified" of the "disaster" of kids reading popular texts instead of canonical texts. Again, the idiot "either/or" dichotomy. Like there's no way for them to do both!!! An English professor (not an education professor, or even an English education professor) from Emory complains that students need a core experience, another Cultural Literacy reference that is diminutive in its focus (why is it that so often these days Cultural Literacy arguments are reductive? It's as if speakers want us to see them as idiots. MEMO: Critical literacy and Cultural literacy can and should interact/intersect. Again, it's not an either/or proposition. Multiple texts and experiences can coexist. Even E.D. Hirsch knows that, deep down!).
Thank goodness for Kylene Beers and Robert Probst and an actual practicing k-12 teacher bringing another side to the story, talking about how students need and want to read texts beyond the fiction-heavy titles on most reading lists and/or featuring characters to whom they can more easily relate than are featured in many "classics." Beers experienced for herself the same feelings of "magic effort will be the cure" that I did when she taught struggling reader conglomerant figure George (see her book What to Do When Kids Can't Read) to understand what I mean); Probst is keen enough to even talk about how some of his best readers were poor students who might not have been able to read a novel on grade-level but were excellent social decoders and had a street fluency beyond his own abilities.
It's scary: one can read this article and almost see sides forming. If the alarmists keep with their tone, the rest of us may have to pull together to make sure the last vestiges of sense aren't ran out of education studies. Nationally, we were just plunged back to the 1890s in almost every aspect of American life. Now, folks who should know better seem intent on having us revisit pedagogies associated with the turn of the wrong century as well.
"Sides" often equates to "bifurcation." As frustrated as I am to read some of the alarmism, and as much as it alarms me, I know it is important not to go too far in creating alarmist text in reaction to them. That will just push apart and lose too much of what we need for common ground. If those of us who are against the rhetoric that is popping up concerning a return to a stolid Cultural Literacy don't keep our cool, we'll fall on far "other side" of the "either/or" spectrum. Let's critique these statements when they are made. Let's discuss their absurdity and danger, but let us not push against them so hard that we lose the sense of commonality that will keep outsiders from looking at us and wondering what a bunch of idiots we are.
Hmmm... perhaps that's the overall goal: a larger force wants us to eat ourselves from the inside so they can take over with the support of the masses; swoop in and fix the mess it instigated/created. That can't happen with a Democrat in office, can it? Hmmm... I'll just consider "conspiracy theories" to be too much of an extreme possibility.... for now..... But it would be awfully opportune to declare education broken at a time when teachers and teacher educators are squabbling amongst themselves. It'd be easy to "shake things up" after shaking things up...... Yeesh, and I thought things were getting scary before I started to extrapolate! ;)