Saturday, April 13, 2013

Getting Personal (in writing)

"...I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me."
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

"Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today? is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal narrative. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don't really give a shit about what you feel or what you think."
David Coleman, Architect of the Common Core

I like the juxtaposition of those quotes. They frame my argument about the Common Core's approach to learning. That approach emphasizes non-fiction reading over novels because that's the kind of reading people need to do on the job. It emphasizes reports that prove students have understood the assigned reading and looks down on the notion of creating knowledge through writing. The Common Core looks to insure that students learn to be good workers and consumers.

What would Henry David Thoreau think of that? I think I know.

I ask students to write a lot from their own heads. I've struggled with this. Is it enough to write personally. No, but it is where we begin because it teaches something other than parroting back whatever someone else wants to hear. Personal writing teaches us to develop ideas of our own. Even when we write from texts, I want them to focus on opinions and ideas because, David Coleman be damned, I do give a shit about that.

Keep in mind that David Coleman was writing personally there. He wasn't drawing on facts so much as his own opinion and arguing his beliefs. Just as Thoreau did with much more elegance and creativity.

The Common Core is one reason my sixth-grade daughter has yet to read a novel in ELA. It's also a reason she no longer has time to get to the school library. The Common Core's emphasis on nonfiction would be fine if it emphasized good nonfiction. My favorite authors are nonfiction geniuses. Annie Dillard, Jon Krakauer, James Herndon, Jonathan Kozol, Robert Pirsig, David Sedaris, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, and, lest we forget, Thoreau. They write nonfiction at its best, but that's not what my girls are being fed.

The nonfiction of the Common Core consists of shorter pieces, often articles, much like what workers will be expected to read on the job. So, there's no room for To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Speak, or Of Mice and Men. What good is all that novel crap anyway?

Creativity is a valuable commodity, but the Common Core does not promote creativity. My daughters are about to embark on eight days of testing. Eight days of pissing away ninety minutes at a time on tests that will teach them mostly to dislike school. I don't want data from these tests. I don't need it. I know my kids and so do their teachers.

Given the choice between the man who doesn't give a shit what people such as my daughters think or feel and the man who asks for a simple and sincere account of each person's life, I'll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

David Coleman can go screw. And in Thoreau's memory, I will write on.