The CCSS (Core Curriculum State Standards) should be fully implemented into classrooms in 48 of the 50 states by the 2014-2015 school year. The new standards have significant differences in all the major subjects, including Math, English/Language Arts (ELA), Sciences, and Social Studies. The main change comes from the realization that literacy should be taught beyond just the English classroom, allowing English teachers everywhere to breathe a sigh of relief, while formed beads of sweat on the brows of teachers of all other subjects. However, the English subject takes a direct hit, and they hit right where it hurts: in the creativity.
The CCSS is one very long document that, truth be told, all teachers should stew over with a highlighter, a cup of coffee or a glass of chardonnay, and a punching bag. Simply put: there’s no ignoring it. One way or another, the old ideals of teacher-centered learning will have to take a back seat to the new student-centered style of learning. The changes come from the embarrassing statistics that students are not being adequately prepared for what they need to know in order to be a successful college student. This caused an increase in the number of students taking remedial courses and even increased the dropout rate. That certainly didn’t make our public school system look good. And so, the standards were reworked to encourage college and career readiness (CCR) from even kindergarten, where students will still receive help from teachers but the help will be significantly pulled back. The standards were reworked in all aspects of ELA including reading, writing, grammar, and research.
The writing standards focuse on three types of writing: argument, information/explanatory (once known as expository), and narrative. But it had one major exclusion: poetry. Specifically, Appendix A of the standards states: “the narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry.” What does this mean? It means that a kid can go through their entire educational career without ever writing a single poem. “The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion. “So if little Robert has a teacher who doesn’t particularly favor poetry, he may never be able to write one.
Look, I get it, poetry is tough. It has significantly lower educational value (because is utilized less) than writing an argumentative piece or a personal narrative (which everyone who plans on applying to college needs to know how to write) but the price for this is a stifling of a great literary institution. Imagine Frost never had a teacher who challenged him to write a sonnet. Imagine Emily Dickinson was only taught explanatory writing. And what about Billy Shakes’ Sonnet 130 “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun”?
Let’s face facts here, not all narratives are useful. It is a difficult craft to master and an equally difficult craft to judge. Who am I to say that my 2nd grade student’s poem about butterflies and unicorns has no value to their education? Colleges require mostly nonfiction, document and research based writing, and because of our freedom of speech, nobody has the right to stifle the production of creative pieces. However, the movement of the new standards is closer to craft rather than creativity. Even the narrative is only one small aspect of the standards. Most of the others are used to support nonfiction, expository writing over creative pieces that serve as outlets (Standards 7-9 deal exclusively with research). Because what high school kid doesn’t love writing about the life cycle of a pea?
Anyone can argue either side of the spectrum. Our children are entering college grossly unprepared for what lies ahead. Even graduate students will often be given the “Stop Being Lame with MLA” speech at least once in every class. But at what cost do we propel students to do better? Creativity can’t be taught, but every beautiful tree starts off as a simple seed in the ground. Do we prepare our students for being skillful individuals? Or do we just ensure that they do well enough to get by? There is no magical solution and despite how the public school system functions, creative minds will blossom. The worry will be with those that never got the opportunity.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards ELA. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010.