of organizational behavior titled On the Folly of
Rewarding A, While Hoping
for B. In it, Kerr describes
the disconnect that occurs
when rewards are tied to
official performance outcomes rather than to the
hope will blossom along
the way to the goal post.
Rewarding A while hoping for B is exactly what
schools have been doing
under the continuing
drill-and-test climate of
No Child Left Behind, as
we reward annual yearly
progress achieved by whatever draconian means it takes, while
hoping that students and their teachers
are engaged in a mutual love of learning. Once this approach is applied to an
unrestrained common core curriculum,
it is only a slight exaggeration to say that
we could see technically themed lessons
flood the curriculum—while hoping
that students will somehow develop an
appreciation of the beauty and tragedy
of our humanity and their own place in
In the desire of politicians to ensure a
technologically competitive 21st century
workforce, will English be reinvented
as the utilitarian vehicle to push along
other subject areas on the road to a
technically centered school system?
Those who express concern about this
danger are not Luddites; technology
long ago entered the English classroom
door. Simulations, script writing, video
productions, mashups, website planning
and building, desktop publishing of
school newspapers and poetry journals,
podcasts, online research projects, electronic bibliographing, classroom reports
delivered through online animations—
these are just a few ways the traditional
English curriculum has successfully
evolved to change with the times.
English does not need to be remade; it
is under constant pedagogical refinement at the hands of an able and often
technologically savvy teaching force.
Amid the coming decades of continuing change, however, our students
will need to be equipped with not only
technical know-how but also creativity,
insight, adaptability, and the capacity
for expansive thinking to make and
remake their professional identities.
Curriculum writers must be attentive to
what most people outside the neighborhood school have long forgotten—that
students must be dynamically engaged,
see relevance in the work they do at
their level of understanding, and discover the connectivity of new knowledge to what they already know.
The value of literature study, challenging us as it does to explore the
pushing of boundaries, may lie less in
the answers it provides than in questions it raises. “The bird doesn’t sing
because it has an answer,” Maya Ange-lou has written. “It sings because it
has a song.” To diminish the place of
literature and other creative arts in the
schools is to risk silencing the song that
emanates from student engagement and
No one could wish for the common
core state standards initiative to fail. If
it does, the United States’
spiritual and material poverty as a nation will grow.
Yet if educators are to
preserve English instruction that does not merely
serve the gods of industry,
we must not be silent in
the crucial curriculum-development and text-adoption period now upon
us as the common core
© JUpitEr imagES/gEtty imagES
We stand at a juncture
where English education as
we know it could easily
pass into oblivion as quietly
as the corner bookstore.
English teachers and their
supporters must act quickly
to exert influence on the direction of
their future, or find themselves fol-
lowing rather than leading the way
1See the 10th amendment to the U.S.
Constitution ( www.law.cornell.edu/
constitution/tenth_amendment) and the
2001 Elementary and Secondary Education
Act, Section 9527 ( www2.ed.gov/policy/
Frank, P. (2002). Einstein: His life and times.
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Kerr, S. (1975). On the folly of rewarding A,
while hoping for B. Academy of Management Journal, 18( 4), 769–783.
National Center for Education Statistics.
(2011). Reading 2011: National Assess-
ment of Educational Progress at grades 4
and 8 (NCES 2012-457). Washington,
DC: Author. Retrieved from http://
Race to the Top Fund: Notice of proposed
priorities, requirements, definitions, and
selection criteria. 74 Fed. Reg. 37,803
(2009). Retrieved from www2.ed.gov/
Ravitch, D. (1985). The troubled crusade:
American education, 1945–1980. New
York: Basic Books.
Barbara Bartholomew is an associate professor of reading, literacy, and
English at California State University in