Teaching Literature as Teaching Particular Concepts and Skills

Will Common Core kill students' love of reading?Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)
Will Common Core kill students’ love of reading?
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Valarie Strauss highlighted a disturbing quote from this New York Times article entitled, “English Class in the Common Core Era: ‘Tom Sawyer’ and Court Opinions.”

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

Teaching particular concepts and skills is not teaching literature as Strauss points out:

Concepts are general notions, abstract ideas; a skill is a particular ability. Isn’t there more? How about teaching literature so students can learn to examine (not conform to) societal values, expand world views, understand their own and different cultures, appreciate the beauty of strong, eloquent language, develop emotional intelligence?

Literature is a mirror that reflects a society’s values, behaviors, history and culture. Teachers with any hope of capturing students’ attention and getting them engaged in reading Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Faulkner have to think beyond skills and concepts.

Yes you do.  This approach to literature isn’t much better than kids just reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes on a book and calling it a day.