GUEST POST: Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and the Common Core, Lauren Girouard

Lauren Girouard is a student in my first year seminar (writing intensive). Lauren is an avid reader—a Neil Gaiman fan—and when she chose to write about Common Core, I asked her permission to post this as a rare voice of a student. I hope you enjoy this fine essay by a student who has come to love reading in the way we often claim we are seeking.

Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and the Common Core

Lauren Girouard

I have never been one to appreciate the adage that “we are what we read.” Undoubtedly, we are informed by what we read, we can learn from and be inspired by our choice in reading material, but are we really what we read?

Literature certainly has the ability to ignite our passions and spark our imaginations. As a child, I adored C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and while I was far too young to understand the deeper meaning behind the words I was reading, all I knew was that the world he created was beautiful. As I grew older, I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher who, while he taught all the literary standards inside the classroom, dispensed booklists of young adult fiction we should read to better appreciate the beauty and value of the written word in our lives. From a young age, I viewed literature as a beautiful notion to place on a pedestal and adore. Unfortunately, many students are not so fortunate and they struggle to achieve that same love for literature.

Goodreads, a social networking site based on sharing and categorizing literature, serves as an organizational tool for avid readers, English teachers, and authors, and features lists of books that have been frequently organized into the same category. Goodreads’ list of Popular High School Literature Books is very starkly contrasted with Goodreads’s list of Popular Young Adult Fiction Books, suggesting a widening gap between what adolescents must read in school and what they consider enjoyable literature. This disconnect between the texts most often read in a classroom setting and the books students choose to read in their free time would not be concerning if the works selected for the classroom were truly superior examples of how students should write or offered deeper insight than that offered by popular young adult fiction. However, recent findings and a blossoming in the field of adolescent literature suggests that the disparity between what young adults want to read and what they read as a part of their curriculum need not be so large.

Some will always adhere staunchly to the classics. The Argumentative Old Git suggests that literature must be taken much more seriously, that we even go so far as to diminish literature as a subject when we allow students to select their own reading material. The idea that adolescents should not be responsible for their own curriculum in the English classroom is spawned from the notion that serious literature, that is to say what is commonly accepted as classroom literature, will make students feel that literature is a graver, more important subject. Yet a recent article in “The Telegraph” suggests that students are less well-versed in literature than they used to be because they are dropping the core subject in favor of lighter fare. This runs in direct contrast to the arguments of The Argumentative Old Git and those like him who continue to fight for a curriculum rooted solidly in the literature that has become canon for high school teachers.

While Great Britain struggles to work out whether literature should be taught at all, the United States system of education is embroiled in a feud over Common Core, which would shift the study of reading in high school even further away from fiction and certainly from young adult fiction, and focus more squarely on informative texts. The program has been widely instituted, as this map from their official website shows:

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While some would prefer to make the debate over these new standards political, even going so far as to substitute Common Core for Obamacore, others are more willing to consider the pros and cons of such a program more fairly, even when they come to the same conclusion: the program is detrimental for most literature in the public education system. Common Core simply cannot seem to win on any front, even when it tries to introduce “The Hobbit” as a piece of fiction suitable for classroom reading.

If it is abundantly apparent to many that these Common Core standards, which stifle a teacher’s ability to select their own literature or allow their students to have a voice in the standard curriculum, are harmful to schools, why then do so many still insist upon keeping such a wide range of young adult literature out of the classroom? The American Library Association seems to wonder as well, going so far as to tout the literature most frequently banned in the classroom each year. The comparison of these lists to the Goodreads lists above reveal that far more Young Adult Fiction is being banned than the tried and true literary standards that so many have become comfortable with.

Some teachers continue to fight against regulated reading standards that stifle the freedom of students to choose what they read. In radical steps, some like teacher Lorrie McNeill are implementing a new reading workshop strategy where children pick their own titles for discussion in the classroom. These attempts to combine education and pleasure have not gone unnoticed, but the continued implementation of Common Core standards suggest that these methods are simply not accepted in as wide a context as would be necessary to put choice of literature in the hands of the students.

Despite the backlash against Common Core standards and curriculum, there seems to be relatively few voices championing teacher and student choice in crafting an educational list of literature for use in the classroom each year. No wonder students are increasingly opposed to even taking an additional English class, when popular young adult fiction is being stifled, whether by petitioning parents or government regulation.

One comment

  1. argumentativeoldgit

    Since a post I had written some time ago on my blog has been referenced here (I blog under the screen name “The Argumentative Old Git”: “git” is a somewhat derogatory epithet in Britain, and I thought my screen name rather amusing when I first thought it up), may I have the opportunity to respond to some of the points made?

    Firstly:

    “The Argumentative Old Git suggests that literature must be taken much more seriously, that we even go so far as to diminish literature as a subject when we allow students to select their own reading material. The idea that adolescents should not be responsible for their own curriculum in the English classroom is spawned from the notion that serious literature, that is to say what is commonly accepted as classroom literature, will make students feel that literature is a graver, more important subject.”

    With respect, that is not my argument. Nowhere do I say or even imply that studying “serious literature … will make students feel that literature is a graver, more important subject”. I do say that the purpose of teaching literature is to propagate the values literary of our literary culture. If we then make the assumption that teachers know more about the subject than do the students (if we don’t make this assumption, there is no point in having teachers at all), we must, I think, conclude teachers are better placed than the students to decide which texts best achieve this end.

    We do not allow students to determine the course contents for mathematics or for the sciences, and for good reason. I pose the question why English literature should be treated any differently.

    Secondly:

    ” Yet a recent article in “The Telegraph” suggests that students are less well-versed in literature than they used to be because they are dropping the core subject in favor of lighter fare. This runs in direct contrast to the arguments of The Argumentative Old Git and those like him who continue to fight for a curriculum rooted solidly in the literature that has become canon for high school teachers.”

    I am not sure what you mean by “this runs in direct contrast to the arguments of The Argumentative Old Git …” If you mean that this contradicts my arguments, then no, I don’t think it does.

    My best regards,
    Himadri (aka The Argumentative Old Git)

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