clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Comments of the Week: The informational text and the poem

Several readers sought to assuage high school teacher William Johnson’s fears, shared this week in a Community post, that new standards will render his English class “deadly boring” with its emphasis on informational texts.

The Common Core standards, which the city is rolling out right now, ask students to read more non-fiction than they traditionally have in school. A nearly 50-50 balance of fiction and non-fiction in eighth grade is supposed to shift to 70 percent non-fiction in 12th grade.

Several commenters said they thought the addition of more “informational texts” need not be a bad thing, and in fact could be a boon to some students. But one commenter used a poem, by William Carlos Williams, to let Johnson know that he is not alone in his fears.

(And speaking of the new learning standards: Please join us Nov. 26 to talk about the Common Core over wine and cheese!)

A.S. Neill said he is not a fan of the Common Core – but he still thinks there is an upside to its reading requirements:

Research shows that males read less and more poorly than females but girls prefer narrative fiction, romances, poetry, plays while boys prefer science fiction, fantasy, special interest, and news. It has been suggested that the emphasis on the former while limiting the latter by teachers and librarians (confirmed by research), is part of the explanation of the gender gap in reading. … This in fact, was my personal experience in school.

That comment got Mr. Flerporillo thinking:

Interesting. I bristled at first at the Venus versus Mars angle of your post. But then I remembered the first books I loved, before I ever heard of a Canon or considered that the contents of one’s bookcases was a marker of class and taste: Orwell, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Asimov. Spot on in my case, A.S. Neill. And something to think about as the father of a son who’s less intense about reading than his sister.

Johnson clarified his concerns in response:

My concern is about the emphasis on “informational texts,” which I think is related to a reductive notion about the purpose of reading and writing. A great biography is hardly a mere source of information: it’s a deliberately constructed narrative that serves multiple functions, very few of which have to do with transmitting information. My fear is that the people behind the Common Core do not share the passion for reading and writing that is clearly evident in this comment thread, and have designed a set of standards that reflect this lack of passion, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of what literature is.

Parent Matthew Levey suggested that the issue might be the Common Core creators’ word choice, not their goal:

I think many observers are (ironically?) getting hung up on the semantics of “informational texts.” Of course I want my child to read Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t mean he should not read “Warriors Don’t Cry” or “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Taught effectively each of these texts offers rich opportunities to impart valuable lessons about literary style and technique, but also history, geography, and human emotions.

But one commenter said he shared Johnson’s concerns fully. Juggleandhope even used a poem, a communication form that some fear could be marginalized under the Common Core, to make his point:

i think William Carlos Williams correctly argues,
“My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”

not just men, of course, also women and students of all ages.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.