I know you’ll never believe this given my youthful appearance and svelte figure, but I am the mother of a high school junior and senior. For 12+ years I've watched my children navigate public education. Some of that education has been spectacular, but much of it has also been formulaic, predictable, and reductive.
I still catch my 18-year-old daughter surreptitiously reading under the blankets (these days that’s with an e-reader and not a book), and I still smile in delight. I am pleased that she can still get lost in a good book and that reading is one of her favorite leisure activities, but it could have turned out much differently. Delayed early in reading, trapped by initiatives like Accelerated Reader, Lexile levels and Dibels, Katie might have been turned off to all of the great books I put in front of her.
I can, perhaps, almost breathe a sigh of relief that I've “launched” my own kids, but I’m worried about the kids who come after them. Of course we want all children to be good readers and writers, and of course we have to judge growth, but when literacy get reduced entirely to benchmark tests and data points on a chart, I’m worried that kids (and maybe their teachers) will never get a chance to get lost in the “flow” of a good book. I’m worried that they will never be so engrossed with characters that they can’t shake them off for days. I’m worried that they won’t know Holden Caulfield or Jay Gatsby or Elizabeth Bennet.
The new Common Core State Standards will ask us to do even more in our classrooms. We will be asked to teach more reading, more writing, and more critical thinking. But in the maze of new mandates I hope we don’t lose sight of what drew us first to become English teachers: the love of our language as it is written, spoken, and acted out. The CCSS will ask us to teach more informational and argumentative texts, but I hope it’s not at the absolute expense of a great piece of writing that makes us ponder the human condition, a speech that gives us empathy for others, or a metaphor that haunts us. We can look to our content-area colleagues to help us teach informative texts and to develop arguments, but if we are not the guardians of great literature, who will be?