Stumbled upon this article by Janie B. Cheaney (what a name! love it!). Empty Frigates.
“Literature” as subject is the study of literary craft. Craft is involved in every form of art, and learning about perspective and composition (for example) can help us understand a painting. But it can also distract us from the experience of just standing and looking. “The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender,” Lewis wrote. “Look. Listen. Receive.” It makes sense to teach literature from a critical perspective in college, after students have read and liked dozens of books. But the younger the child, the less she’ll gain from character arcs and compare-and-contrast. In fact, too much of this could harm a child’s appreciation for literature in general, like poking at a live lab specimen until it’s dead.
The new Common Core standards appear to make a bad method much worse. Instead of reading lots of novels and stories, students are exposed to “texts,” which they are then taught to dissect. Fiction and poetry go in the same hopper with informative essays and tracts. The fourth- or fifth-grader can’t just read; critical exercises bar his way to the story and its potential “to take us lands away.” If books are frigates, children should be allowed to step aboard and experience the journey, not make detailed diagrams of the rigging. Curriculum writers don’t seem to understand the main problem with standard educational theory, at least since John Dewey: The child is not a soul, but a brain. Brains don’t need experience; they only need facts.
If your child’s summer reading list came with worksheets, ditch them if you can. Just let the kids read, and continue to read to them—lots of books, and all kinds of books. They don’t have to finish every one they start; literary tastes are as individual as fingerprints and take time to develop. The cost is low, the value high. Take it from Emily Dickinson: “How frugal is the chariot / That bears the human soul.”
This is why when I teach I tell the audience to close their books and their eyes and just listen.
We need to allow ourselves to be carried away by texts.
But instead we poke at them until they’re dead.
Superb rigging diagrammers
rather than wayfarers.
Oh bring on that frugal chariot…
Thank you, Janie B. Cheaney