I have read a lot of blog posts, articles, and presentation materials framed around the idea that Common Core is forcing High School teachers to get rid of fiction. By 12th grade, Common Core does suggest that 70% of text should be informational. Some people have ignored this increased Informational text requirement by pointing out that this is for all text in school, not just within English classes. Acknowledging this as a fact somehow means that English teachers can continue teaching with majority fiction text. The flaw in this logic is that to accept this argument is to assume that prior to Common Core students were reading fiction in other content areas. The fact is that students have always read primarily informational text in other content areas. The fiction-the literature-comes from the English teachers. So if Common Core says to add more informational text, you better believe that they mean that this should happen in the English classes as well. I am not going to argue about percents here, but the fact is that English courses are not just Literature courses. They never should have been. This disconnect is because most English teachers become English teachers because they are lovers of literature. This is not appropriate and really never has been. Common Core just makes that obvious.
So what now? Teachers have to get to the business of teaching English: the study of our language, text, and communication. I must admit my bias now—I am not a traditionally trained English teacher. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and consider myself a teacher. I know how to explain concepts well. I became a college and high school English teacher after teaching elementary school students for over a decade. My route? A master’s degree in Composition and Rhetoric. I am not a lover of literature. I know it, I read it, and I understand it. I do not find it to be the core of anything. Being knowledgeable about Shakespeare cannot and will not make you a better communicator. Understanding the symbolism in Animal Farm does not make you a better thinker. Recognizing Twain’s satirical style will not help you get a better job. Those things are fabulous—but they are not critical literacy skills. English cannot solely be about that. Has that worked well thus far?
Literacy is about negotiating text. Because you are a critical thinker, you recognize satire in Twain’s work. Because you can negotiate text, you recognize Shakespearean prose for the masterpiece it is. Because you consider messages and multiple perspectives, you can see parallels between Animal Farm and the relationship between the Russian revolution. You use critical literacy skills to negotiate literature. It is not the other way around. A month long unit on Macbeth will not result in increased literacy skills. A month long unit on how messages are communicated through exposition, description, and character traits is much more useful. This leaves room for informational text AND the classics. It is all about balance, teachers should not focus learning on just the content of literature—the focus should be the critical skills that can be applied to literature.
Forcing a stronger focus on informational text is a smart move. It pushes analysis to the forefront and the content to the back. The non-English teachers are the ones who need to join this conversation. Talk to the Science and Math teachers. Did the unit on The Scarlet Letter help them to read critically? In many cases (sorry literature lovers) these texts turned people off of literature. Potential literature lovers abandoned the very thing we want them to be able to deconstruct! Looking for the right way make meaning of a text or seeing the symbolism in the same way that your teacher did was the goal. Now it is about your own analysis. What do you see as the meaning of Frost’s poem? How do you frame this understanding? How do you defend you critical assertions that you make? What teachers are doing now is trying to find information text in the forum of big books so that they can teach them. Levett, Gladwell, and Covey, are just a few of the names popping up. So now teachers have a new book to teach. No! You are just swapping a new text and ignoring the key tenet of Common Core. We teach skills, not books.