Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lincoln, Euclid and a CCSS Cautionary Tale

Lincoln (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

I. A Small Story

I couldn't help but think of how we often redress truths we have learned from one discipline in the cloak of story.  I thought about this as I viewed Steven Spielberg's Lincoln last week. In the scene below, Abraham Lincoln is determining what to say in a telegram and uses Greek mathematician, Euclid's notions of geometry as an illustrative story about reasoning and equality.  Lincoln illustrates the significance of the then pending 13th Amendment by situating Euclid's reasoning that, "Things that are equal to the same things are equal to each other" as a story.

Specifically he tells the young telegraph operator:
Euclid's first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works - has done and always will do. In his book Euclid says this is self evident. You see there it is even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law it is the self evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.   

Although Lincoln is speaking to the operator, it seems as if he most needs to hear the story in order to finalize his decision not to sacrifice the chances for ratification of the 13th Amendment in order to end the fighting.

II. A Cautionary Tale

Australian economist, Allan Fels says, "As humans we are hardwired to tell stories and hardwired to listen to stories." At the 2011 Creative Innovation Conference, he told the audience that "70% of what we learn is through stories" and that "storytelling is essential for innovation."

I think of the scene from Lincoln and Fels' words in light of some interpretations of the ELA Common Core State Standards which advocates significant increases in students reading and teachers utilizing informational text in order for students to be "college and career ready."  By high school, 70 percent of the texts taught are supposed to be informational.  Although David Coleman, co-author of these standards says that the percentage is spread across disciplines as a response to concerns from English teachers about the role of literature, Sandra Stotsky and Mark Baurerlein insist that "Literature will inevitably have a lesser presence" in curricula.  Further they state that the claim that reading informational texts leads to being college and career ready appears to be unfounded. Baurerlein writes:
“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” said Professor Bauerlein. “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”
Beyond the obvious need for human story, it is a mistake to assign specific percentages of text types to be read at a national level as such action reduces teachers' capacity to place into individual students' hands touchstone books and for students to exert agency and select works that resonate.  Keeping track of percentages may well take us off course  by redirecting our attention and energies from intellectual exercises to accounting.

It is agency, more so than titles or genre, that lead learners to become avid readers, not simply compulsory ones.  It is the breadth and depth of read and appreciated texts that allow readers to couple ideas and insights gleaned with circumstances they now confront.  It is this action of making and applying meaning to lived contexts that better represents signs of being 'ready' for adulthood.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more (ask Rob about ch. 7 of my book) and I loved Lincoln.