Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where's the Books?

I'm a big fan of metaphors and telling details. A telling detail is a small instance that illuminates a larger truth. Honestly, one of the best examples of the use of telling details is the TV show The Wire, where countless small moments demonstrate character and larger social implications. Now, though, I have perhaps a new favorite moment from the real world.

In Douglas County, Nevada the school board is looking to adopt a new English curriculum. They're leaning toward one called Springboard, which is "vertically aligned" and uses "standards-based instruction to reinforce content." It's everything an idealocrat could hope for. There's just one thing missing: novels. That's right, they forgot the books. In this curriculum, students are expected to read only one novel a year.

On the one hand, this is the sort of thing that just makes you want to shake your head and say that it's no wonder that nearly 25 percent of Americans don't read books. On the other hand, this is a telling detail that I think illuminates a larger trend.

With the direction that education reform is moving right now, we like things like vertical alignment and standards-based instruction. Frankly, we should like those things. But they aren't the ends in themselves. And that's easy to lose sight of when you're trying to look at things from an algorithmic, number-crunching sort of way. Maybe this curriculum will help kids do better on state tests. I don't know. But even the state tests aren't the end.

Somewhere along the line, folks seem to have forgotten - at least in Douglas County, and I would argue elsewhere - that there's a lot more to educating kids than will show up on a bubble sheet. That an English curriculum without novels is even being considered just shows how people are forgetting that.

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