Common Core proponents and their backers like Bill Gates keep reassuring us that the increased emphasis on “informational texts” will motivate students and improve their reading skills. In the interest of academic “rigor,” therefore, the new Department of Education diktats prescribe the replacement of a good chunk of literary reading with informational texts. In high school that means devoting 70 percent of the time to “informational texts.”
Students will like this, we are assured. But since it appears that this is not naturally the case, even among those who devour Harry Potter and Little House on the Prairie books on their own, the educrats find themselves producing inspirational films through the Teaching Channel, which received seed money from the Bill Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
In this video, titled “Comic Book Templates: An Entry Point into Nonfiction,” the teacher asks students their opinions on reading nonfiction. They reply “bo-o-oring.” The enthused teacher then tells us that she will give strategies to make students “motivated and confident.” Students are divided into four “pods” to each read one informational text. Fighting against the inherent boredom factor, she has to instruct students on how to read--“as though there’s a movie in your mind.” (Of course, this extra step is not necessary with fiction because there is something called a plot.) Students must be shown how much fun it is to read informational texts—especially the kind chosen by teachers and curriculum writers. Using comic book templates, she asks them to “map” the introductions. Big poster boards are needed and students get the intellectual challenge of choosing various shapes, working collaboratively, and filling in the pieces with words (kind of like coloring). Why read Huckleberry Finn when you can fill in shapes with words from Barbara Ehrenreich’s engrossing socialist tract Nickel and Dimed, one of the four “informational texts” chosen for this lesson?
Another one is Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. In case you didn’t pick up on the double entendre and cheery tone that would make every teen want to get absorbed in its narrative, Amazon provides some apt quotations:
Another of the four chosen “informational texts” is about “blood diamonds,” Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stone.
This is the description on the Amazon page:
Should the hapless teenager decide instead to go to a diner, he will likely remember the oppressive conditions of the workers described by Barbara Ehrenreich in her tome, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which is described thus on the Amazon page:
Does anyone detect a pattern about the “dark side” of the things we enjoy—from chocolates, to diamonds, to hamburgers, to clean toilets? Perhaps we should all be hoeing in the fields for organic rutabagas clad in flour sack shifts. Perhaps we should throw away all the accoutrements of civilization, for we cannot enjoy them without guilt.
To continue this anti-capitalist narrative, teachers would need to severely limit students’ exposure to texts that are not informational, like fiction, especially fiction written by dead, white males of European origin, like Nathaniel Hawthorne. They would need to keep students unaware of his short story, “Earth’s Holocaust.” The literary language, the satire, the ironic message about reformers’ attempts to destroy all pleasurable things might give students some ideas. Students might also be surprised that, way back in 1844, someone was critiquing the progressive pretentions of reformers, someone who had actually lived in an experimental utopian community called Brooke Farm, one of many popping up at the time.
Students might be drawn in by a story that begins, “Once upon a time—but whether in the time past or time to come is a matter of little or no moment—this wide world had become so overburdened with an accumulation of worn-out trumpery that the inhabitants determined to rid themselves of it by a general bonfire.”
They might read that after the reformers throw into the fire liquor, weapons, marriage certificates, and title-deeds, they decide:
First to go in the story are such authors as Voltaire, Milton, and Shakespeare. And then comes the Bible.
Students might appreciate the dark humor of the hangman who promises to help the others after all the liquor is consumed. They might relate to the young woman who wants to throw herself in.
And they might not even need poster boards with geometric shapes to color in with repeated explanations from the “facilitator.”
But what work would that give Common Core proponents, video makers, curriculum writers, digital technology people, and those who would refashion our young people into global citizens in their own image?
Click here to see the Teaching Channel video, "Comic Book Templates: An Entry Point into Nonfiction."
Editor's Note: I would like to thank Mary for allowing me to publish her works. This issue regarding Common Core is larger than many may think. I have posted a link to five videos that deal the the long range ramifications of this subtle and insideous program called Common Core. RK