Where’s Literature in
The common core state standards in English language arts could take us in the wrong direction—unless we plan for where we need to go.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant competition, announced in 2009, set off a flurry of legislative action from cash-starved state governments ready to do whatever it took to preserve school funding.
In an ever-expanding economic recession, state after state
adopted the government-favored common core state standards, hoping to gain a competitive edge for the millions
of dollars in federal funds that were at stake. In a development that had been previously unthinkable, national standards alignment was suddenly born, neatly side-stepping
both the U.S. Constitution and federal law. 1
For the hopeful, the new common core state standards
promise a vision of unity—“out of many, one.” But for
other observers, both Race to the Top and the new standards represent a troubling departure from an expansive
vision of liberal arts education stretching from its origins
in antiquity to the founding of 19th century public schools
and continuing through the present. In this view, education should immerse students in the continuum of ideas of
a democratic society. Students should be broadly educated
in the traditions, documents, literature, history, and understandings imparted by their forebears.
If you were educated in the United States in the last 160
years, this is likely how you were schooled. The K– 12 foundations in math, science, English, and social studies, honoring the accumulated knowledge of our history, have stood
as a Mt. Rushmore–like monument. They have served not
only to pass common knowledge from one generation to