Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Educational Standards

As Andrew and I prepped for his ACT, we were both initially intimidated by all the stuff that he was supposed to know about literature. I don't Teach Literature here. We read. We discuss. We enjoy. Sometimes we even analyze ... but NOT in the way we studied literature in school.

In light of those recent experiences, I found this article to be telling.

Now assuredly what these literary artists [such as Melville and Austen] hoped above all else was that a century or two from their own time students in high schools would be using their great works not better to understand love or honor or revenge or nobility or happiness, but to "analyze how multiple themes or central ideas in a text interact, build on, and, in some cases, conflict with one another"; as well as to "analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed)." We know that this sort of innocuous thing is what the authors had in mind because that is what our teachers told us in school. We remember the drill: the plot graphs -— rising action, climax, falling action (or denouement) -— the cast lists of main characters and outlines of "main ideas," the possible literary techniques -— foreshadowing, alliteration, onomatopoeia. What we do not remember is one dad-gum thing about these stories.

I heartily recommend the rest of the article to those who care about education and how the government is undermining education. The article is also a good wake-up call to those of us who have been hearing the sirens singing as we waded into the public-school mindset which is inherent to ACT testing.

Thanks to Beth S who forwarded the link on FB.


  1. Those people who engage in that type of literary analysis make me sick. I mean, in my AP English class, we did SOME of that, but ONLY when it would be genuinely helpful in understanding the story, and we didn't do it for every story.

    Maybe if we didn't treat Dickens or Austen or Dostoevsky or others like them as though we were opening some ancient tome that requires a special code to be understood, people would actually enjoy them in the same way they do Crichton or Rowling or others like them.

    Although, to be fair, that kind of "literary" analysis can be hugely helpful in one way: if you're learning to write. Doing this can definitely make a writer a better writer. But that's because this isn't a "literary" analysis - it's a writing analysis. You're not looking at what the author says, but rather at the tools he used to say it. And that's very helpful to anyone wanting to write!

    But understanding literature that way? That's just atrocious. It's like all that "Bible Code" nonsense.

  2. I have been teaching in a private school (reformed) in the closing years of our homeschool (little Crista, our baby, is 22 this June!) I have taught what they asked, Latin Writing, Choir, and Literture, both Brit and Ancient(currently). i have to admit I did do a bit of the charty, on the white board stuff, but only to push the texts forward. With the Ancients, it has been mostly read and discuss...they are loving it and so am I.

  3. I'm a writer and I have never been able to figure out how those dry words related to telling a STORY. Storytelling is an innate human behavior! Surely, some are better than others at telling stories, but I agree with the article... schools beat you over the head with extraneous stuff when they should be talking about the substance... the good stuff!