May 16, 2007

Don't know much about history...

... but know more than before.

Hey, how did that happen if No Child Left Behind was supposedly diverting teaching resources away from history and into reading and math (the subjects on the tests required by the program)?

Well, maybe reading is... you know... fundamental.

I mean, check out this question from the history test:
[A] question on the fourth-grade version of the test, which quoted three sentences from the 1858 speech in which Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The test asked students, “What did Abraham Lincoln mean in this speech?” and listed four possible answers.

a) The South should be allowed to separate from the United States.

b) The government should support slavery in the South.

c) Sometime in the future slavery would disappear from the United States.

d) Americans would not be willing to fight a war over slavery.
I'd say reading comprehension goes a long way on a history test that asks you to interpret a text, and, more than that, the ability to read and interpret texts gets you much farther along in the process of learning history than knowing some historical facts.

And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school? Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don't, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It's not tied to economic success in life and needn't be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music. Leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint. Just because teachers tend to be the kind of people who love novels does not mean that this choice ought to be imposed on young people via compulsory education. Teach them about history, science, law, logic -- something academic and substantive -- and leave the fictional material for after hours.

And quit bitching about No Child Left Behind.

ADDED: Message to the self-appointed reading experts who are outraged at what I've written: Ironically, you are not reading very well. I'm not saying reading shouldn't be taught. I'm saying that the reading materials used in teaching reading should be nonfiction, so that students are absorbing information and practicing critical thinking while they read. I consider this to be efficient and appropriate for the school setting. Students would have access to fiction to read on their own for fun (and maybe, because it would be a change of pace, they'd have more of a tendency to experience it as fun).

I'm drawing on my own background as a law professor. In law school, we spend much of the time teaching students to read cases. So to me, the combination of learning reading skills and learning substantive material is very familiar. I'm working with adult students, obviously, but they are still learning how to read. If I were to try to adapt this to young readers, I would find elementary, well-written books that present scientific and historical information.

If you don't like this idea, but can do nothing more than call it stupid, then I can't respect your opinion. My working theory is that you are either stupid, lacking in creativity (despite your affinity for fiction), or have some conflicting interest in the publishing or education industry.

By the way, I was taught to read through the ridiculous fictional series known as Dick and Jane.

AND: I have a big new post here addressing some of the criticisms of this post (which, I think, really misunderstand my point).

126 comments:

Tom said...

Given that Lincoln's speech stated that the States had to be all free or all slave, it appears that these educators are not qualified to ask questions.

Mickey said...

I agree that "pleasure reading" should best be done at home or in the library. 'pleasure read'n', lol.

A kid will get into it, if they want to..what were they 9 yrs old? A smart kid might not even known the answer.

Joe said...

I'm not going to quit bitching about No Child Left Behind. It's a huge waste of resources and embeds federal control further into the school system. I can say with certainty that it had adversely affect my youngest children's schooling.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Does anyone really think that the answer in C: Sometime in the future slavery would disappear from the United States. is what Lincoln meant???

I agree with Tom. These teachers shouldn't be allowed to teach history if they are going to distort it through a the politically correct ideology of modern times. Instead they should be teaching history in context of the time it occurred.

Reading comprehension is cruical in learning any other subject. Past the 2nd grade I don't see why there should be separate reading classes except for remedial help. As Ann says, just have the kids read and practice on the text books for the other subjects.

George said...

Isn't the correct answer

(e) If American's cannot peacefully solve the slavery issue, the nation will be destroyed.

And I wonder how many teachers tell their students that Lincoln was making reference to Matthew 12:25, something that the vast majority of his listeners would have known?

5Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

I'm probably wrong, but I think he's probably comparing Southerners to the Pharisees, something that would have infuriated them.

And, gee, he sounds like Jerry Falwell, doesn't he?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I agree that "None of the above" is the correct answer.

No wonder they are crabbing about standards on the teaching of history- apparently the edecators have lost sight of what the facts are, much less be able to teach them properly.

Mindsteps said...

Professor Althouse wrote:

And quit bitching about No Child Left Behind

A complete reading of NCLB suggests that it has both positive and negative consequences.

The act's emphasis on the early detection and intervention of reading problems is laudable.

However, it's one size fits all approach, emphasis on test scores, combined with it's punitive nature have proven detrimental to the teaching of students with emotional problems, developmental delays, visual impairments, traumatic brain injury, children for whom english is not their first language, autistic spectrum disorders, and a whole range of students with cognitive impairments. Believe it or not, many of these students, their teachers, and their schools are not excluded from the NCLB requirements!

I believe it would be improved if there were a way of individualizing the NCLB act a bit more and greater efforts were made to define and exclude those who might not respond favorably to it's approach to education.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seven Machos said...

Truly a ridiculous question. Abrahan Lincoln meant so much with that statement, and not one of those things that he meant is one of the answers to the question. Only by process of elimination the suckiest answers can you get to one that is slightly less awful.

Seriously. Who writes this crap?

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

The government is not forcing any school system to comply with NCLB. The schools participate to get the federal bucks.
If they don't like it, they don't have to participate.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

emphasis on test scores, combined with it's punitive nature have proven detrimental to the teaching of students with emotional problems, developmental delays, visual impairments, traumatic brain injury, children for whom English is not their first language, autistic spectrum disorders, and a whole range of students with cognitive impairments. Believe it or not, many of these students, their teachers, and their schools are not excluded from the NCLB requirements!

First of all how is teaching to one standard (hopefully not the lowest one) and expecting the students learn and be graded on their accomplishments any different from the education that I recall. The teacher would often state during class lectures or when giving homework....."Pay attention this will be on the test."

So we are "teaching to the test"?? So what. Its better that the students learn SOMETHING in school. Right now we are turning out functially illerate people who have no grasp of the fundamentals of english, history, math or science. No wonder we are going backwards as a nation.

Granted I'm older and things have changed for the worse, much worse, but accountability and performance are a part of real life. If we don't impose standards in schools and ways to determine who is effectively learning then these students are going to be sadly disappointed when the real world slaps them in the face.

I do agree, however, that there should be accomodations for the REALLY impaired students. Not knowing English is a hurdle, but not insurmountable. I have no sympathy. My Grandfather came to this country from Wales as an adult,and spoke only Welsh. That is a language barrier but he still went to college and became a Veterinarian.

The reality is that not everyone is equal. Some students are excellent, some fail and the majority are in the middle of the Bell Curve. Teaching to the lowest common denominator is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Mindsteps said...

I do agree, however, that there should be accomodations for the REALLY impaired students.

However, for the most part, there are not any accomodations for the Really Impaired Students. Teachers experience profound pressure to teach a child with severe frontal lobe impairments (rendering them incredibly impulsive and inattentive) or a child with combined severe mood disturbance and learning disabilities (in reading, writing, or math for example) who explodes 2-3 times per day, or children with language disorders (for instance, children who are so literal that while they can read plenty of words, yet they can barely symbolize so their capacity to comprehend is greatly impaired.) or children with very serious reading disorders, or children whose neglect and/or abuse stunt their development and learning. Some teachers of these children experience intense distress because they know these children will not meet NCLB benchmarks, yet they perceive that they may be responsibe for placing their entire school and it's personnel in jeopardy.

The Drill SGT said...

One frightening article. Not because the students are doing better but because:

a. somebody thinks that (C) was a better answer than: (e) If American's cannot peacefully solve the slavery issue, the nation will be destroyed.

b. I expect teachers to be idiots because they get graduate degrees in process not content. same thing I guess for journalists. I would have thought that the writer or an editor would read that question and either comment on it or pick a safer one. just goes to show that if the answer is PC, there are no doubts.

c. am really disappointed that a guy like this would seemingly blow that question:

Theodore K. Rabb is Professor of History at Princeton University . He received his Ph.D. from Princeton, and subsequently taught at Stanford, Northwestern, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins Universities

Saskia said...

Dust Bunny Queen, with respect, I am tired of the "my grandfather came here from Europe speaking no English, worked hard, and became successful" stick that's used to bash non-English speakers in the US today. It's just not useful or fair to make a comparison between white European immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the immigrants of today. Today's immigrants have often come here for different reasons, with different backgrounds, and face a very different socioeconomic context. Expecting everyone to be able to learn English quickly just because your grandfather was able to isn't realistic, and leads to ineffective policy.

And Ann, until you've spoken to the teachers who've been forced to implement NCLB's many problematic mandates, don't tell us to stop bashing it. Reading the words and understanding the intent of NCLB is one thing; watching it play out in reality is quite another.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

So because a small group of children have "frontal lobe impairment" (whatever that means) or are disciplne problems for the teacher, we should abandon a program that is being shown to improve the overall level of learning in elementary grades?

I don't think so. I may sound cold and callous.... ok I AM cold and callous, but if those children are so impared that they can't function or disrupt the learning process, I suggest they be segregated into other classroom tracks where they can get specialized attention instead of draining the resources of the teacher from the not impaired (normal) students. If these students are so disfunctional in the schools, how do you suggest we accomodate them in real life and why should I anyway?

We had tracking when I was in school and believe me it was a pleasure to not have some students in class. The rest of us would be able to concentrate and learn.

Life isn't fair. And as I said, people are NOT equally endowed with learning or physical abilities. I think that most (not all) of these disabilites you cited are things that have been around for centuries or seriously have been made up to create yet more victim classes for the liberals to fund with government (taxes) money.

Seven Machos said...

Saskia: Bullshit

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I am tired of the "my grandfather came here from Europe speaking no English, worked hard, and became successful" stick that's used to bash non-English speakers in the US today

Baloney. I'm not bashing anyone. I just can't stand to see the lack of English used as an excuse to dumb down education for everyone else. Learning a new language is hard. Learning it in younger years is easier.

Unless we are all speaking the same language, our society will continue to fragment. Children must learn the language of the country where they live. Otherwise we are just creating more illiterate, low wage earning, poor people who haven't a chance to really compete in the economy.

A permanent underclass. People who make good Nannies, mow your lawns, paint your house, pave your patio, flip the burgers. Is that what you want?

Or would it be better to push children to learn English so they can be fully functional. So it's hard. So what. Life IS hard.

The Drill SGT said...

The whole educational impairment issue has turned into a quagmire and racket.

a. some parents with kids with real disabilities want them mainstreamed and sue to get that outcome.

b. other parents with kids with real disabilities, sue to get special classes.

c. other parents with kids with slight or imagined (diagnosed by some quack) disabilities, sue to get private schools.

c. other parents with college track kids create a (diagnosed by some quack) disability, to get extra time on SATs to improve their scores.

schools are out a bundle, and quacks and ambulance chasers get rich. These practices are quite common in the nearby DC schools.

Mindsteps said...

Dust Bunny Queen wrote:

So because a small group of children have "frontal lobe impairment" (whatever that means) or are disciplne problems for the teacher, we should abandon a program that is being shown to improve the overall level of learning in elementary grades?

Dust Bunny:

If you read my first post on the subject you would find that I wrote the following:

I believe it would be improved if there were a way of individualizing the NCLB act a bit more and greater efforts were made to define and exclude those who might not respond favorably to it's approach to education.

While not always a fan of David Brooks, I did resonate to his column written in the November 13, 2005 NYT's entitled Psst 'Human Capital. http://classrooms.tacoma.k12.wa.us/sota/dsavage/documents/david_brooks_on_human_capital.doc.

He opined:

"Over the past quarter-century, researchers have done a lot of work trying to understand the different parts of human capital. Their work has been almost completely ignored by policy makers, who continue to treat human capital as just skills and knowledge. The result? A series of expensive policy failures.

We now spend more per capita on education than just about any other country on earth, and the results are mediocre. No Child Left Behind treats students as skill-acquiring cogs in an economic wheel, and the results have been disappointing. We pour money into Title 1 and Head Start, but the long-term gains are insignificant.

These programs are not designed for the way people really are.

The only things that work are local, human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings. Extraordinary schools, which create intense cultures of achievement, work. Extraordinary teachers, who inspire students to transform their lives, work. The programs that work touch all the components of human capital."

Seven Machos said...

Dust: The process a poor immigrant coming from a family with little English skills, little social or educational capital, and very little economic capital must go through to develop the skills necessary to seize opportunity is, indeed, hard. Going through that process will be a serious blow to any fragile psyche. No question.

Better, therefore, that these people should mow the lawn and wash dishes.

Just who is it that is keeping the underclass in this country down? It's certainly not The Man. By all accounts, The Man wants everyone to learn English and essential skills. Its enablers like Saskia that are keeping the poor destitute and opportunity-deprived. Way to go, Saskia. Sleep well.

Pogo said...

Even if NCLB actually worked, I oppose it. Local education is no place for the government.

But the teacher's union brought this on themselves. Their stranglehold on public education has led to the poor performance that created the demand for a federal response in the first place. Hack away at the gov't and union power grabs, and we might re-create a useful education system.

The Drill SGT said...

Dust Bunny:

immersion language training is the fancy name for it now. It's the best way to learn a new language and the opposite of bi-lingual education

works everywhere else, but our education clique is vested in bi-lingual education.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Saskia said...
Dust Bunny Queen, with respect, I am tired of the "my grandfather came here from Europe speaking no English, worked hard, and became successful" stick that's used to bash non-English speakers in the US today.


Todays immigrants are no different than any wave before them.

The Germans, Italians,and Irish all faced not only language difficulties but outright discrimination when they ventured out of their enclaves.

Look in any older city center in the Midwest& you will find two churches (usually Catholic) with Native tongue carvings and window dedications, usually one church in German and another in Irish or Italian.

They followed the same path as the Hispanics are now; the adults usually learned enough English to be barely functional, while the children became fully bilingual and the grandchildren English only.

Read a little history and get back to me on this, okay?

Seven Machos said...

Read between the lines, Redneck: Saskia is pretty clearly suggesting that Hispanics are a bunch of irretrievably stupid morons. That's why they are there to bus her tables and wash her car.

Gary Carson said...

When I was a kid I did most of my reading at home, I read the same books and magazines my daddy read and they weren't age appropriate so I wasn't allowed to read them at school.

I really think school in the early years is just about enforcing order, it has very little to do with education. A few months ago I wrote a post about my own experiences with the reality of education when I was a kid.

The No Child Left Behind Act just extends that control to the teachers, it doesn't do anything for the kids.

That question about Lincoln was written by idiots. When I was a kid I'd have figured out what answer they wanted. But, I'd have been too stubborn to cooperate. I'd have left the answer blank.

Fritz said...

Joe,
Would you please explain how NCLB, a testing regiment that's purpose is to measure your child's performance has been detrimental to your child. How would you know such a fact if we didn't test? Your liberal trope has no facts to back it up. Like the history professor, he is angry propaganda is being replaced with real history that matters.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

MAchos- I was giving Saikia benifit of the doubt & beliving (s)he had never studied the history of Immigrants to this country, either through being from a family history lacking immigrants from the last 200 years, or just a lack of interest in anything not right under their nose.

The other options was a current immigrant who had been lead to believe only they had ever had it hard in this country, and again ignoring anything not right under their nose.

paul a'barge said...

George +1. All 4 answers are wrong. Geez.

Look. My quibble with NCLB is that it's implementation details suck.

The Feds should have simply said:
1. There will be vouchers for all students in public schools if those students want to go elsewhere and
2. If a school's test results consistently fail 2 years in a row, no funding or vouchers can be used to attend that school.

Then, let the open marketplace make all the other decisions.

Saskia said...

Wow! I have no idea how some other posters are deriving the conclusions that they are from my comment above. Your overwrought, hysterical interpretations of my comment truly astound me, and tell me that you're uninterested in reasonable discussion.

For one, I do believe that knowledge of verbal and written English is essential for success in the US, and that our schools need to find a way to teach ESL effectively and early. Secondly, I certainly do agree that there are some similarities between current immigrants and those of past generations. It's pretty simplistic, though, to argue that the educational needs of immigrants today are the same as those of previous generations. We live in a different world today than that experienced by our grandparents.

Hoosier Daddy said...

These teachers shouldn't be allowed to teach history if they are going to distort it through a the politically correct ideology of modern times.

Heh...you can say the same thing about most of the liberal posters on this blog for that matter.

Speaking of history, I'll never forget a debate among some fellow students in college back in the late 80s. We were discussing Vietnam and I made the remark that I never figured out how the US attracts all the blame and vitriol for Nam and no one ever questions France's involvement.

And here was one girl, a history major and I kid you not
she says indignantly: "What the fu** does France have to do with Vietnam???"

Where does one even begin?

David said...

I wonder how many of the history teachers recognize that the Lincoln quote is from the Bible, Luke 11:17, and that's one of the reasons the quote had such resonance with Lincoln's audience.

sonicfrog said...

Who writes this crap?

Second the motion.

LutherM said...

The appreciation of great novels, short stories, plays and poetry is an acquired taste. Mine undoubtedly started when I was read to sleep every night, with Mother Goose, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Boys King Arthur, then Morte d'Arthur - there was a progression. Being exposed to poetry in school was a progression from Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" and "The Song of Hiawatha", Emerson's "Concord Hymn" - all before the 5th Grade - to Browning's "My Last Duchess", "Andrea Del Sarto", and Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" in High School. For novels, I read the required "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Silas Mariner" - and a little book by Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea". I remember that I studied "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" before "Pygmalion", which I regarded then (and now) as delightful.
Of course I read outside of school. I don't recall either Thomas Hardy or Somerset Maugham novels being required reading - but without the preliminary background in literature, I doubt that I would have opened them, or read poetry like Eliot -"Sweeney among the Nightingales" - or Lawrence - "Snake".

Ann writes "leave the fictional material for after hours" and just teach "history, science, law, logic - something ...substantive." Such an idea, eschew Shakespeare and Shaw, because she thinks they are not "substantive". Instead have the minds at a formative age read politically-correct history. SHE IS DEAD WRONG.
By not introducing young students to literature, (and music and art), the system leaves the students permanently behind - possibly depriving the United States of the next poets like Wallace Stevens (trained as a lawyer) and William Carlos Williams (a physician). There is time enough to study law.

It is particularly distressing to read such a pernicious idea advanced by a professional writer.

Mindsteps said...

Saskia said...
Wow! I have no idea how some other posters are deriving the conclusions that they are from my comment above. Your overwrought, hysterical interpretations of my comment truly astound me, and tell me that you're uninterested in reasonable discussion.

All or none, universal, polarized, black and white, dichotomous, good and evil, idealization -demonization, all right-all wrong, either you are with me or against me kind of discourse seems to be the current rage when it comes to discussing even the most complex, multifacted issues.

It can be pretty toxic when it's overused.

Balfegor said...

Re: Saskia:

It's just not useful or fair to make a comparison between white European immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the immigrants of today.

Okay -- try this one. My mother, who is Korean, not White or European, and did not arrive in the late 19th or early 20th century, but rather in the latter half of the 20th century, came to the US as a teenager, entered high school not knowing English, and learned it well enough to graduate high school on an accelerated track, and then attend a prestigious college.

Is that better?

Secondly, I certainly do agree that there are some similarities between current immigrants and those of past generations. It's pretty simplistic, though, to argue that the educational needs of immigrants today are the same as those of previous generations.

No. They're not. But learning English isn't rocket science -- like any language, it just takes perserverance, an open mind, access to native speaker material, and people around you who are willing to correct your mistakes.

ricpic said...

Horrible multiple choice answers. Absolutely horrible. It's practically child abuse to put children in the hands of the third rate minds that teach them.

TMink said...

I was going to jump all over what Saskia said, but I was beaten to the jump. Well jumped everyone!

I think a three (really five) tier educational system would be best. Kids would test and achieve their way into the various tiers.

Tier I - the kids and the family want the kid to learn and the child is gifted or especially industrious and will benefit from an advanced pace. These are the kids that would be bored at typically paced instruction. They would be challenged at this level.

Tier II - kids and parents want the kid to learn, or the kid wants it bad even though parents are not interested, available, or capable to help the kid, and kid is of average plus or minus intelligence and aptitude. This would be typical instruction. Motivation to learn would be required to be taught at this level.

Tier III has three divisions. III A is for kids who do not want to learn and whose parents do not care. This is sort of daycare and keeping the kids busy and off the streets.

III B is for behavioral problems. Here the children are taught how to behave through a strict behavioral level system. The goal is for kids to learn how to make good choices, and to leave III B and go to II or I.

III C is for neurological problems, physical handicaps etc. The goal is to maximize their learning and autonomy. It is equal parts education and occupational therapy.

A child would move up and down based on testing and accomplishments, with the emphasis placed on accomplishment.

It would work, but some people would worry more about fairness than rewarding effort and would be difficult to implement.

Trey

The Drill SGT said...

Balfegor said...

agree and none of that ESL crap either I bet. No big Korean-English certified ESL curriculum.

Immersion English to a girl that "wanted" to learn.

guess what, it works.

Wade Garrett said...

So, you're saying No Child Left Behind is a good bill? Just checking.

Cedarford said...

I believe it would be improved if there were a way of individualizing the NCLB act a bit more and greater efforts were made to define and exclude those who might not respond favorably to it's approach to education.

I sympathize with the educrats enough to appreciate they know all kids are not equal thus the "every child is capable of learning test minimums" doesn't apply. But they are the same educrats that insist like clockwork that there is no difference that can't be fixed with more teachers and higher salaries and less workdays. And who also insist absolutely no charter schools to exploit that variation in individual performance.

We all know there are categories of kids that challange the system:

1. Irretrievably stupid and retarded kids that can't be taught, and if they do get taught to just test - they get the same benefit as a dog taught to do a complicated pet trick.
2. Emotionally disruptive that hinder their own learning and more importantly the learning of others.
3. The simply stupid lazy and dysfunctional coming from generations of similar underclass that scorn education. That won't try, that won't learn and teachers are somehow expected to mold gold bars out of the bricks of shit they have been handed 1 hour a day.
4. The students capable of doing better with No CHild Left Behind. They are actually a minority.
5. Good and gifted students that are motivated to learn, some of whom will be harmed by dumb teachers and moron students they should not be in the same class and held back by. The good news is the best will continue to self-educate despite the hindrances of public schools.

****************
We have a real problem nationally with our schools. We are near the bottom of nations in performance while spending more per capita than most countries that out perform us. We also have the demography of the dumb and groups that culturally, don't value education or are less intelligent than the ethnicities of the top-performing educational nations.

****************
George BUsh's moronic mantras about "every child is capable of learning, no child deserves to be left behind (despite their lack of desire or brains) is like his cookiecutter approach to nation building.
"I believe every nation is capable of a secular democracy. Grounded in law with personal freedom the highest goal".
Then Iraq hit the fool square between the eyes.
Nations are not cookie-cuttered out.
Haiti has been "free" for over 200 years. It is still a shithole that has tried and failed several times to prove it can create a functioning, democratic country.
Most African countries are also headed down the toilet.
It seems that no Muslim country but a couple of small trading nations and Malaysia have made much progress on the "freedom and respect for law" biz after Kemal Attaturk's Revolution. There is considerable hope that the ex-nations of the Soviet Empire that are Muslim will not fail as the Arabs and Paks have done, and the problem is not with Islam - but in the nature and culture of the ethnicities within certain parts of ISlam that have failed.

Seven Machos said...

Neither education nor immigration has changed since the 1800s, or the 1500s, or the 900s, or any other time.

Seven Machos said...

Balfegor -- Your situation is not a good comparison because everyone knows that Korean and English are linguistically similar.

Spanish and English are worlds apart.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Saskia, my apologies if I have misinterpreted your comments.

But I will also argue that for an immigrant US of A in 2007 is not very different that in 1907 or 1807. It is still the land of oppourtunity, which is why we have so many immigrants, even today.

Cedarford said...

Trey - 2:38 PM. Excellent suggestion. Pity the teaching lobby is so stupid and liberal.

Your common sense idea flies in the face of "mainstreaming rights" and decades of assertion that by educrats that all students are capable of learning and just need the right teacher to inspire and motivate them. In that magical 1 hour a day, 90 to 120 days out of the year And getting those sort of teachers that will move poor students past their personal and family sloth, dumbness, and laziness - obviously requires smaller class sizes, more teacher pay, continued tenure, more vacations, more special ed, more psychologists, shorter classroom days, someone else to dscipline kids, for all teachers and educrats involved.

I like your tiers. What is the point of the greatest use of taxpayer dollars outside health care if you have families and individuals determined not to benefit from it?

Trevor said...

Trolling for English teacher traffic, professor, or do you really think that the study of literature exists just because "teachers . . . love novels"?

If you actually talked to a teacher, you'd know that literacy is in fact being stressed and taught in science and social studies courses, just as critical thinking is stressed in English courses when students respond to complicated pieces of writing like novels and short stories. Instead, you prop up a strawman about diverted resources to explain why teachers "bitch" about NCLB. It's not the money, it's the kids.

Eh, I'm guessing you're just trolling. My mistake. Carry on, my wayward prof.

Seven Machos said...

Althouse never talks to teachers.

Pogo said...

Re: "It's not the money, it's the kids."

Ah, the usual preface to a power-and-money grab by the teacher's union.

Trevor said...

Ah, the usual responses to substantive arguments . . . Diversion, paranoia, and jokes that miss the point.

I really should know better by now.

Pogo said...

Trevor, did your comment about "substantive arguments" have something to do with your post?
Really?
Ha!

Seven Machos said...

Trevor -- You made no substantive argument.

Fritz said...

Ceder;
Guess what, teaching to the test, known as teaching only splinter skills, bad idea, is revealed on a standardized test! Test questions are specifically designed to make sure students are progressing, understanding the mechanics behind the mathematics. Teaching to the test is a trope and the biggest lie against proper and necessary standardized testing.

Seven Machos said...

Fritz -- I disagree. Teaching to the test is a real problem. Students learn how to get to the right answer in special kinds of problems. This very often means simply getting rid of the stupid answers, very much like we all did with the Abe Lincoln question, or, particularly in math, using a technique to get to the right answer that hides a lack of understanding of the underlying concepts.

Trevor said...

Sigh. Congrats, Seven Machos and Pogo. You've trounced another internet commenter with your "ha" and your declarative sentence. Bask in your glory.

You got me. I offered nothing worth responding to.

Seven Machos said...

Trevor -- I'm happy to debate with you. You disagreed with something Althouse said by suggesting that she doesn't talk to real teachers. That's not substantive.

Have you read a high school textbook lately? They are crap. Total crap. And that's the extent of what most teachers teach from. You know it. It's true.

Don't accuse us of posing. If anyone is posing, pal, it's you.

Pogo said...

Come on, Trevor. You accused commenters here of "Diversion, paranoia, and jokes that miss the point.", and that we failed to address "substantive arguments".

Your complaint about our "the usual responses" implies that your own was superior in some way.

Well it wasn't. It was merely the same toss-off invective mine was.

Palladian said...

The modern novel was basically invented in the 18th century and developed in the 19th century into the form known and written today. In the early days of the novel, the form was derided as junk: a sentimental, immoral product of romanticism, a pastime for the weak-minded. I think we need to embrace this assessment once again. Prose fiction is usually worthless; the only literature that should be (and needs to be) read and analyzed in pre-college education is metrical poetry, such as Shakespeare, Spencer, Milton, Sidney; and histories, autobiographies, and other narrative non-fiction. Reading prose fiction is a waste of valuable class time. I can't tell you how much I hated reading silly novels like "Emma" and "The Mayor of Casterbridge" in school and how much I loved reading Shakespeare or the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Sadly, we read very little of the latter and very much of the former. I read Milton on my own and felt guilty for hating novels.

Enter the standard warm-and-fuzzy indignant cries that all books are good! and you hate books and education! just because some of us don't think that the enforced reading of glorified romance novels is a productive introduction to literature and language.

Mindsteps said...

Seven Machos said...
Fritz -- I disagree. Teaching to the test is a real problem.

I would add, that for a sizeable minority of children, NCLB testing would provide the kind of 'helpful' data that one might obtain if Fritz was repeatedly required to take a pregnancy test.

Fritz said...

Steven M,
You are so easily fooled. Is it any wonder why the NY Times did not provide us with the other 2 sentences from the question? Perhaps led us to C? A standardized test must be reliable and valid. Your argument that a child could answer multiple questions by strategy is nonsense. I don't like teaching to the test, it is bad curriculum. 2+2 may equal 4, but a standardized test would write questions that use language that the test taker would have to know about units, not rote addition, as should be.

Seven Machos said...

Fritz -- I have taught kids for many, many years how to beat standardized tests using just such strategies.

Could a first-grader master process of elimination? I don't know. Could a fifth-grader? I think so. Could an eighth-grader? Without question.

Luckyoldson said...

Ann says: "And quit bitching about No Child Left Behind."

Why?

Do you know something about the program that we don't?

You know...something good??

Seven Machos said...

Lucky -- It's free federal money for crappy schools with crappy teachers to bring in third parties to try to help kids at the crappy schools pass certain tests the kids can't pass.

Do you know something bad about it?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Trey's idea of a tiered educational system is a good one and we had it until the early 70's when political correctness began to run amok. In the interests of not hurting any one's little feelings or self esteem, we have created an educational system that doesn't meet the needs of the diverse types of students.

There should be a track or tier for those student's who are obviously on the upper end of the curve. We used to call it college prep. The main/majority group of students would get a standard education without as much science and math. Vocational students learned additional skills like carpentry, auto mechanic, business skills like typing. No computers in my day...told you ....old.

The students that were troubled, disruptive went to continuation school, separate from the rest of the students, until they proved their ability to be added back into the school population.

We had core studies that everyone had to take, however the tiers or tracks had different levels of difficulty. There was always a free slot for an elective that would be fun...art, band, yearbook, home economics, swim team etc.

This system worked and each student got the education that was appropriate to their abilities; unlike now, where we are teaching to the lowest common denominator and no one gets a good education.

Charter schools are going to become more and more popular as they are not subject to the heavy hand of unions. They can focus on and cultivate the type of students particlar to their "charter" while still maintaining a core of required courses.

Joe said...

Fritz,

Basing an educational curriculum on nationwide tests is a crappy way to teach. But NCLB is more than just tests; it adds a huge "one size fits all" regiment to teachers.

My children have had several excellent teachers and all have complained about how NCLB limits them. My wife substitute teaches and has found the same.

(I cracked up about your liberal trope nonsense. NCLB is pure liberalism at it's very worse. No genuine conservative would support such a naked federal grab of power and the monumental waste of sending dollars to DC only to have them sent back to the states with handcuffs. The best thing the next Republican President could do is eliminate the Department of Education and pass legislation allowing states to bust the teacher's unions.)

Beth said...

Leave fiction out of school? No. Oh, Hell no.

There are stacks and stacks of great fiction that allow readers to experince history, science, politics, and philosophy through the stories and their characters. Why not read Slaughterhouse Five, Catch-22, Maus, The Painted Bird, Anne Frank's diary, or Tales of the South Pacific when studying WWII? Literature is where students can synthesize their other material, and make connections among movements in the other disciplines.

Seven Machos said...

I agree that the standardized tests are stupid and that the Department of Education is stupid and that teachers' unions are a bane of awfulness and incompetence.

All of that said, in the current environment, with standardized tests and the Department of Education and teachers' unions apparently not going away, No Child Left Behind is a good response that is helping real kids get better test scores.

David53 said...

And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school?

Because that’s what federal and state governments mandate at least up to about the 5th grade.

Elementary teachers usually don’t have much choice what or how to teach any subject. I taught 4th grade for several years. I had a state mandated math curriculum that worked. I liked it and all my kids passed the state tests. The next year I was told I couldn’t use it any more; they removed those textbooks from my classroom. I was pissed but there was nothing I could do about it. We were moving on to a “new and better” state adopted textbook. Ha! It’s all about the money. If the states don’t follow the federal guidelines they don’t get the cash. Get rid of the Department of Education and let the states handle it.

Here’s how the teachers union racket works in Texas. We are a “right to work” state. You don’t have to join the NEA or TEA to teach but everyone does because they are the only ones who offer comprehensive educator’s insurance. If Johnny stabs Billy while your back is turned you don’t want to get sued without a former Althouse student to plead your case and you know how much that costs. The NEA now lobbies Congress claiming millions of members while in reality only about 50% of the NEA’s members agree with their agenda. Heck, I think less than 30% of the teachers even participate in the unions.

Teaching kids was fun, but the bureaucracy really sucks.

John said...

Hate to break it to you guys but (c) was the right answer. In the speech, Lincoln specifically says he does not expect the Union to be dissolved. This was 1858 after all. He is saying that since the nation cannot endure half slave or half free, it has to become one or the other. Here is that part of the speech:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

Luckyoldson said...

Seven Machos said..."Lucky -- It's free federal money for crappy schools with crappy teachers to bring in third parties to try to help kids at the crappy schools pass certain tests the kids can't pass. Do you know something bad about it?"

From Jamie McKenzie, a graduate of Yale with an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College and an Ed.D. from Rutgers, Jamie has been speaking and writing about educational change for several decades:

Congress must decide in 2007 whether to reauthorize NCLB/Helter-Skelter or let it die and replace it with a new law that makes sense.

The law is so badly flawed, it cannot be fixed. It is a wreck. It is un-American in its basic principles, relying upon fear, intimidation, threats and punishments in ways that would make Stalin happy. NCLB is the very kind of big government "state planning" that we were taught would be the downfall of the Soviets.

Recent polls show growing public disillusionment with regard to NCLB's claims and promises.

See The 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools at
http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kpollpdf.htm

A National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) study of the experiences and perceptions of more than 2,000 literacy educators (April 2006) shows that among these teachers charged with implementing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 76% believe that the Act has had at least a somewhat negative influence on teaching and learning in English/reading classrooms.

Smilin' Jack said...

In the next lines of that speech Lincoln clearly indicates what he means:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.


So the test question and multiple choice answers (all wrong) don't tell us anything about the historical knowledge and reading comprehension of our children. What they do tell us about is the historical knowledge and reading comprehension of our educators.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.B

How can you possibly read the bolded sections and come up with answer C. Sometime in the future slavery would disappear from the United States??

You are contradicting yourself in your own post. He is saying that the opponents of slavery will win and slavery will cease OR the proponents of slavery will prevail and it will continue to exist. That is NOT what answer C said.

ricpic said...

Beth - As an antidote to all that bathetic pathetic smarmy sentimental junk you recommend how about James Jones' The Pistol?

Seven Machos said...

The answer is C because the other answers suck even more than C, which sucks. I wonder if that hideous piece of crap question was written by Jamie McKenzie, a graduate of Yale with an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College and an Ed.D. from Rutgers.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Yes, Steve. Answer C suck less than the other choices. That doesn't make it the right answer. It just makes it the best of the bad answers.

PatCA said...

I completely agree with your thoughts on teaching reading, Ann; however, the How to Read industry would never permit it.

Mindsteps said...

Trey's idea of a tiered educational system is a good one and we had it until the early 70's when political correctness began to run amok. In the interests of not hurting any one's little feelings or self esteem, we have created an educational system that doesn't meet the needs of the diverse types of students.

While 'political correctness' may explain some of the problems with the educational system, at the time P.L. 94-142: The Education of All Handicapped Children's Act was endorsed by congress in 1975, nearly two million children with disabilities were excluded entirely from receiving a public education solely on the basis of their disability. More than half of the eight million children with disabilities in this country were not receiving the appropriate educational services they needed and were entitled to receive, because of the lack of adequate services within the public school system, and families were frequently forced to find services outside the school system, often at great distance from their residences and at their own expense.

Public school has become increasingly inclusive of a wider and wider range of individual differences along a whole host of dimensions.

The complexity of the educational system and our efforts to make it effective and accountable are intertwined with many other social, cultural, and economic forces. Complex causes associated with academic failure include characteristics of the individual (e.g. intellectual level, capacity to delay gratification, learning disorders, motivational factors, etc.) interacting with other causal influences that include poverty, prejudice and discrimination, unemployment, dispair and hopelessness, access to drugs and alcohol, gang membership and activities, association with academically unmotivated peers, modeling in the family, modeling in the media, etc. Improvement in our public schools may take the coordinated efforts of key institutions (e.g. the family, schools, the business community, the media) and agencies. A more refined and targeted form of NCLB may represent but one factor in our efforts to improve the educational system for our children.

sonicfrog said...

DBQ said:

These teachers shouldn't be allowed to teach history if they are going to distort it through a the politically correct ideology of modern times.

I'm afraid it's way too late for that. Teachers are being trained to teach and think along PC lines, and having standardized tests will only cement this ideology into all curriculum for decades to come.

I am in the process of getting my teaching credential in "Social Science" (US, World, Calif history + civics and economics). In the process of doing so I had to pass a semi-big test called the CSET. There are three separate tests to take. While taking the first test, I noticed most of the questions were written in Political-Correcteese, and the correct answer was almost always the most politically correct. After I took the first test, the next two were a lot easier. If I was not sure of an answer, I would just choose the most PC one. I was a bit disgusted by the obvious pattern, but, on the other hand, I passed with no problems.

sonicfrog said...

Dave53 wrote:

Ha! It’s all about the money. If the states don’t follow the federal guidelines they don’t get the cash.

The worst thing about the truth stated above is that the school budget is also partially determined by the number of students attending school, with each student being worth approx. $3000 to $5000 per year. This creates a situation where schools are reluctant to suspend or expel deserving students because the school will lose money already allocated to the budget. The schools have a very powerful incentive NOT to weed out disruptive kids who have absolutely no interest in education, and do nothing but interfere with the education of those kids who do. Since they lose more money directly through attendance than financial reprimands via NCLB, the bad kids tend to get away with crap with no real consequences. And the kid quickly learn there are no real consequences for their bad behaviors. Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the kids for the situation. They are, depending on the student, the victims / beneficiaries of a screwed up system.

Ann Althouse said...

Beth: Anne Frank's diary is fiction???

But I agree that if you're going to do novels in school, it's best to do novels with some historical substance. But given the limits on time, I think it would be much better to emphasize historical and scientfic reading.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A more refined and targeted form of NCLB may represent but one factor in our efforts to improve the educational system for our children.

Mindsteps, I do agree with you on this one size fits all fallacy of NCLB. People are different and not everyone learns in the same way or at the same speed.

I'm a financial advisor. What kind of crappy advisor would I be if I put all of my clients from age 18 to 90 in the same exact portfolio. I would be a pretty bad one and should expect to spend a lot of time in arbitration.

This is what our educational system has been reduced to. Unfortunately the Unions have made it so that there is no real accountability for poor teaching. NCLB is an attempt to bring some accountability into the mix. I don't think it should be thrown out either. Some refining of the program would definitely be in order. Again, this is like my client's portfolios. They aren't carved in stone. There are often good reasons to make adjustments to improve the performance.

roger said...

How can you possibly read the bolded sections and come up with answer C. Sometime in the future slavery would disappear from the United States??

Lincoln is saying that there can only be two outcomes to the situation of 1858: either slavery will spread to the entire Union, or it will be abolished throughout the entire Union. He knew his audience could not accept the first. His point was, only the second outcome was possible: sometime in the future, slavery would disappear from the United States.

Answer (c). Correct.

Sorry if this answer doesn't let you feel superior to the teachers. I suggest a course in reading comprehension. And a bit of humility.

Seven Machos said...

Roger -- Are there really only two possibilities? Is it possible that, I don't know, just hypothetically, there could be a huge Civil War? Is it possible that the South could have won, and that there could have been a house of slavery and a house of non-slavery, or a house of slavery only? What would have been the relationship between the South and North? Would they truly be separate, standing houses?

Is it possible that the very poetry and depth the line derives from the fact that the everyone at the time knew, and we all certainly know now in retrospect, that a looming Civil War would divide the house in ways not metaphorical at all?

Did Lincoln really mean that slavery would disappear? Because Stephen Douglas (and many, many others) thought differently. And would it disappear on its own accord? Like a passing thunderstorm? Would it be a magic trick? Would God intervene? The Spanish?

I hope you are comfortable with that bit of humility, because your blunt understanding of your own country's history suggests that you need to exercise a lot of it.

TMink said...

Beth wrote: "Why not read Slaughterhouse Five, Catch-22, Maus, The Painted Bird, Anne Frank's diary, or Tales of the South Pacific when studying WWII?"

And someone called these sentimental junk?!?!?! Catch-22 sentimental?!? Slaughterhouse 5 junk? I have not read all the works she listed, but I cannot agree with them being dismissed as junk based on the works I have read and my history of reading Elizabeth's posts..

Trey

PatCA said...

"And the kid quickly learn there are no real consequences for their bad behaviors."

And districts also force teachers lie about their roster numbers to get the cash.

More Teachers Come Forward

Beth said...

Ann, I'm thinking in terms of literature, not just fiction, so Anne Frank and Maus fit right in.

We've got time to teach students literature, history, math, art and music, civics--all that good stuff. We waste time on a lot of useless repetition. The weeks we spend preparing for and conducting standardized testing is a huge waste of our time.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, I'm thinking in terms of literature, not just fiction..."

Well, then, that completely undermines the opposition to my point. I want great quality readings for the students. I'm simply saying it should be nonfiction, leaving fiction for after hours. If teachers don't know what the great writing in history and science is, they should be ashamed.

george said...

beth,

We waste time on a lot of useless repetition. The weeks we spend preparing for and conducting standardized testing is a huge waste of our time.

Repetition is highly underrated when it comes to learning. In fact, you can tell what the people who run the schools think is important by looking at the topics that come up over and over again. And if you ask me, that hardly seems to be basic math and literacy skills, the very things that NCLB emphasizes.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The weeks we spend preparing for and conducting standardized testing is a huge waste of our time.

However, if teachers had spent the many previous months teaching information that was going to be on the test: would that be a huge waste of time. The students could actually pass a test in which they had learned the information.

I really don't get this teaching to the test whine. Life is a test. Pass or fail. No do-overs.

Beth said...

Ann, I don't see how including fiction and non-fiction in the category of literature does anything to undermine my opposition to your point. Being assigned fiction in school doesn't do anything to keep students from also reading good literature in the various disciplines.

Beth said...

George, I didn't bemoan repetition. I added a modifier: useless repetition.

The freshmen I teach who come from decent schools haven't focused on test scores to the exclusion of having a varied curriculum. The ones I worry about are those from really bad schools; they've managed to graduate despite dealing with poor discipline and disruptions, little support and encouragement from parents, and a host of other problems--but they haven't written a single paper in four years, in any discipline; they haven't read a novel, or a non-fiction work other than their textbooks. They've been rewarded for behaving well in class, and for making it through intense, weeks-long drills preparing for tests. They haven't integrated any of what they're learning, they haven't been given context for anything. The school board's only goal for these worst of all schools in the district is to see some marginal improvement on scores. That's not enough to prepare students for living well and achieving something as adults.

Beth said...

Oh, and thanks, Trey. I'll ignore ricpic's oddly hostile attitude, but second his recommendation. Jones is worth reading.

Freeman Hunt said...

But the teacher's union brought this on themselves.

Amen. The teachers' unions fight any measure that would reward teacher merit. Despicable.

One of a myriad of reasons why I plan to homeschool my children.

Trevor said...

Reading fiction is not just "for fun." To ignore the fiction that is produced by a culture or in an historical period is to ignore a major component of history. It is missing the opportunity to understand the time and the people.

I find it difficult to understand why being a teacher makes someone unqualified to point this out to you. It is we who should not be expected to respect your position. You simply don't know what you're talking about.

Have you ever tried to teach reading? Do you know how difficult it is to get kids interested and engaged with a text? Nonfiction is taught right along with fiction, but would you care to guess what kids respond best to?

Dan said...

Yes, because the best way to encourage people to read is to suck all the joy out of it. Makes sense

Ann Althouse said...

"Reading fiction is not just "for fun.""

Did I say it was? If you think I did, you need to learn to be a better reader! I happen to think art is deep and important, which is why I would like to see students doing it on their own time, following their own choices, "recreating" themselves. There should be a feeling of profound intrinsic reward (as I think kids feel when they read Harry Potter, for example).

As to the point that kids "respond" especially well to fiction as opposed to nonfiction, I want to see the books. I think there are nonfiction things, that teach academic material, that are appropriate for new readers and that are exciting to read. For example, my own children loved books of amazing science facts. American history is full of characters and narratives that can interest children. I remember reading social studies books as a child about how children lived during the depression, or what life was like in the colonies or among slaves or in Indian tribes. I would like to know what children's fiction is superior to that. I'm picturing very well written books with great and accurate illustrations.

Trevor said...

You called reading fiction a "recreational activity." I'm not going to get into a semantic debate, but I don't think it's unreasonable to interpret that phrase as your saying "fiction is just for fun" and not as worthwhile an activity as reading a law book.

You also say that you want kids reading fiction "on their own time." If they're not taught the value of it, or how to read it, what makes you think they're going to pursue it? I'm not convinced from this post that you do see the value of fiction. And it's not the same thing as "art appreciation," as you now seem to be trying to imply.

Look. There's lots of stuff for kids to read and we want them to be omnivores when it comes to books. Sure, some kids will like the books about dinosaurs better than Nancy Drew or Harry Potter. Others will dig books on art history over Captain Underpants. I don't think there's a right or wrong there, as long as they're reading. But teaching students to understand how narrative or logical cause-and-effect works or that life in a civilized society is complicated and requires certain moral and ethical choices that have consequences, that people are not simply good or evil, this is the stuff of fiction. Fiction simply has a place in the classroom and is not something to be sloughed off to make room for more crappy test items. To suggest it's only there because "teachers love novels" is silly.

Doctor Benway said...

So Ann Althouse is a lawyer...

That explains a great deal.

Aero! said...

I wrote this about this:

"Unfortunately, any student who learns to read using the Althouse method is going to terribly disappoint her when law school comes around. Judicial opinions are nothing like good history texts. They're oblique, internally contradictory, long-winded, and extremely selective in providing context. Huge underlying assumptions are completely omitted from the writing, and the writers hide their personal motivations as a basic matter of form. Legal opinions are a perfect example of why textbook-reading skills just won't cut it for anyone who wants to grow up to read more than the occasional instructional manual."

Aero! said...

I'll add to that that your approach will be especially inadequate if you're really confining yourself to "great" historical writing. Great historical writing is clear. I pity the law student who grew up reading only clarity then finds herself reading, say, Nevada v. Hicks.

sal said...

Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too.

How do you do it? Each month you get thicker and thicker, you're like an intellectual coagulate.

And in typical Outhouse fashion you amend your post with a "No! You're dumb because you don't understand what I'm saying!"

And it's not outrage it's amused bemusement.

JoannaOC said...

This is a actually a bad example of testing for facts. The Lincoln statement about a house divided presents us with a metaphor (drawn from a non-scientific, non-history type of text) used as an analogy about politics. The student is being asked to identify the speaker's political position (since Lincoln is exhorting his listeners to take sides in a conflict) with respect to events in the past century (so the student must know about the Civil War) and also with respect to stories told about those events today (the story of the Civil War from the perspective of its winners). The four choices present differing interpretations of the past events and of our stories about those events. Students who are used to reading literary texts are, in fact, better at answering this kind of question, regardless of whether or not they know what a metaphor is, because they are used to reading multiple stories, comparing points of view, exercising their imaginations in acts of interpretation, going from the literal to the figurative and back again.

If the multiple-choice example were to ask the students to demonstrate knowledge of facts, it should ask when the statement was made, or who made it. What the example does ask students to do is to understand the figurative use of speech, uttered in a polemical rhetorical context, to then apply their interpretation to a set of possible versions of a story about events, and finally to decide which one is going to be most palatable to their imagined audience. Do you think they will learn how to do this by reading science and history books? I don't. I do think they could learn to do quite well by this reading Harry Potter, in which characters debate ideas about enforced servitude, make choices about political conflict and division that look a lot like a civil war, and have to decide what is right and wrong in morally ambiguous times.

Kat Coble said...

I'm saying that the reading materials used in teaching reading should be nonfiction, so that students are absorbing information and practicing critical thinking while they read.

So I guess Dickens' criticism of the workhouses and Sinclair's analysis of the meat-packing industry were pointless things to think on.

brad said...

Ann, a strong sign of a poor writer is repeatedly telling people they didn't get your point. If you were actually good at this, you wouldn't need to get all huffy and qualify your frankly laughable statements.
That your language skills are so poor is also a good reason not to take your advice on how to teach kids proper reading comprehension. When you learn to write coherently, then you can chime in.

urizon said...

As a student of literature and an instructor of English, I'd to say this: Stick to subjects in which you have some training, like Jessica Valenti's breasts.

Ann Althouse said...

Ooh, the fiction-loving English teachers are getting pissy, feeling threatened! You know the social studies books are more appropriate for school. I'd like to see a list of the titles of the storybooks you impose on first, second, and third graders. Tell me what these books are and defend them. I bet you can't! I'll bet it's not anything that can be called literature, and that it's worse than the Dick and Jane crap I was forced by the state to waste my young mind on. Put up or shut up!

urizon said...

Spoken like a person who subscribes to Reader's Digest.

Virtually Actual said...

I'm an expert reader!

Shorter Ann Althouse: Because fiction doesn't make money for anyone, we should keep it a secret from the children.

urizon said...

And by the way, do you ever express thoughts that don't require an exclamation point!

JoeLaX said...

I went to UW Law School and no law professors taught me (or anyone I know) how to read a case, as you claim you do. The professors I had taught us to think about a case and the policies that underly it.

I also think you are quite off-base in this post, and, frankly, a little snarky. I mean, really, have you gotten over the Maoist indoctrination you suffered via repeated readings of Dick and Jane?

Dan said...

Oh my.
I'm sorta hoping that the Ann Althouse in comments @ 10:00 is a fake one. Either way, this is all very bizarre.

First off, Ann, let me say that you're not entirely wrong. The current thinking is that fiction may have been overemphasized in the early grades, causing problems later on - esp. in high school - where kids are increasingly required to read for information in heavy subject-matter textbooks. It's also been suggested that this may be turning off children who are naturally drawn to nonfiction. But we're working on this. When I was (briefly) teaching (in middle school), literacy class included a range of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. There was a growing emphasis on reading for information that was reflected both in other subjects (we do, in fact, like trevor pointed out, also teach literacy skills in history class - textbooks don't read themselves, y'know!) and in, for example, the kinds of books in our guided reading program, which ranged from balanced to non-fiction-heavy for the reasons listed above. The writing curriculum also was very strongly tilted towards informational and persuasive writing.

I think the post mainly reflects your particular personal experiences, though. You've mentioned elsewhere that "I just don't like novels very much. . . . novels also contain plenty of foolish notions, tedious observations, phony depictions of human nature, and awful writing. I'm most interested in learning about things that are true and hearing great ideas, and I have never found novels to be a particularly rich source. Of course there are the emotion-stirring stories, but for that, there are so many movies to see, nearly all of which are fiction. But I find I don't have much interest in stories ". There's also that 10:00pm outburst here in comments, and your constant, somewhat disparaging-sounding references to "storybooks". It would seem that the attitudes behind this post perhaps stem from a) simply never finding much enjoyment or value in fiction, then b) being pushed to read lots of (often low-quality) fiction in school, and finally c) spending years trying (as you've mentioned before) to trudge through lots of novels because of "the impression that the best people read novels." It makes me tired and unhappy just imagining it! (One good thing that came out of Whole Language -whatever else one thinks of it - was that it brought a lot of excellent kidlit into the classroom, and probably helped encourage the flowering of children's books that really took off in the mid-ish 70s, and which you may have missed, whether or not it would've made a difference).

There's also the apparent premise that the only real purpose of schooling - not one extremely important one, but the only one - is preparing for economic success later in life. Many people would disagree - but even conceding this for the sake of argument, the post just doesn't make sense.

For starters - one powerful tool in teaching kids history can be historical fiction. Used carefully, it can play an important role for many kids in raising interest, evoking the 'other country' of the past, and getting them to really think about what life in a different time was like - one way of making it real for them. One can try to do the same thing with, say, biographies, well-written nonfiction accounts, and primary sources (all very important tools, for these and other purposes), but it's hard for me to understand why one would insist they they must be used exclusively, especially given that fiction is specialized for certain purposes - in large part, ones related to the goals I just listed. All of these tools have their strengths and weaknesses - why should we arbitrarily toss out the screwdriver in favor of only using the hammer? If I was teaching about the Lowell mills and the technological, industrial and social changes they represented and helped foster, there are many kinds of materials I could use , including the textbook, various high-quality (and eye-catchingly illustrated) nonfiction books, an excerpt from the Lowell Offering (the literary magazine published by the mill girls) - and, perhaps Katherine Patterson's excellent book Lyddie. Why would you demand that I not use it, even though for some kids it might be the best chance of making Lyddie's nonfiction equivalents - and that time - seem real and meaningful?

There's a broader issue, though, that seems related to overreliance on personal experience. You talk about teaching your law students to read cases, but while you mention that they're adults, there are immense differences that you seem not to dwell on. They're quite skilled and successful academically, for example, and are presumably far more literate than the average American, who reads at about an 8th or 9th grade level. They're more or less able to reason pretty well, and are, one would guess, fairly good at self-control and -regulation, planning, effectively pursuing a goal, and all those other fun executive functions, generally highly motivated, and often from (I assume) at least relatively comfortable backgrounds with reserves of economic, social, and cultural capital to draw on. These are not things one can taken for granted in many K-12 classrooms, and indeed, can be assumed to not apply, even adjusted for age, to some number of students.

You write about how "kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home, but as Auguste pointed out over at Pandagon, this is a rather privileged view, especially since many folks are understanding you (incorrectly, I think?) as saying that kids should be taught to read using current history and science textbooks. (Granted, I loved my social studies and science textbooks as a kid, but I also spent most of 6th grade happily ignoring whatever lesson was being taught in favor of reading Shakespeare, Achebe, Chinese philosophy, and primate evolution, and am not entirely representative (frankly, I just peaked early, and arguably have been going downhill since)). You seem to be suggesting that kids from environments where -parents might read poorly if at all, there are few if any books around, bedtime stories are quite possibly unknown, trips to any local library (if it's open for more than a few hours a week) are a rarity at best , there may be no models of reading books for information, let alone pleasure, and academic achievement may be an unfamiliar or at worst actively discouraged idea! - should march off to school only to be handed some dry and concise history or science textbook to extract info from, and then somehow get the idea, upon returning home, to curl up with a novel! Yes, a few might. Perhaps. Even a more reasonable proposal about using excellent and engaging nonfiction works (which should be happening anyway!) assumes that kids are just going to pick up the idea of pleasure reading: if it's not in their environment, that's very far from a guarantee.

One of the strategies I taught in middle school involved figuring out how to pick out what books to read. Some kids needed the help (indeed, occasionally that's an issue with poor/apathetic readers - they might, wonderfully, find something that strikes a spark, and read through (for example) all the Harry Potter books . . . and then just stop, not knowing where to go next.)

You're taking so much for granted. When you write "leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint," that's a sensible or even rousing call on behalf of the ranks of overscheduled and overstressed middle&upper-middle class children raised on Baby Stephen Hawking and shuttled from one enrichment activity to another. It becomes less so for those who don't have access to such opportunities. Ann, my wife teaches kindergarten in a extremely poor, troubled, and violent Philly neighborhood (yes, there are other kinds . . .). A while back she had a little guy, born here of non-immigrant parents, who didn't know what crayons were. Not the word "crayon" - the thing.
That's unusual, but you get the idea. (Even parents who are far more on the ball, especially if they have very little money, and less time, and may not share a particular, largely class-based view of childrearing, are they going to buy their kids musical instruments, or sign them up for dance lessons?)

Within these confines of personal experience, I'm not sure you grasp the urgency with which teachers - especially in poor schools, but everywhere a child might be having trouble reading - try to find books and practices which will motivate the child, that will make them want to read. It's not just about inculcating certain attitudes, etc. (although that's big too, despite you judging it of minimal importance). Imagine teaching law students who simply didn't like reading, of any sort, avoided it whenever possible, and rarely had the intellectual and emotional maturity to grasp that it was important and necessary for later on? Imagine teaching students who had only read, at best, what was assigned? - Because however much is taught in school, a great deal of fluency, facility, vocabulary, background knowledge, etc. come from reading extensively and frequently. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

And we come back to an understanding that I always thought was vital to being a good teacher (though perhaps it's different for the really big kids): Not everyone is Ann Althouse (Or Dan S., or etc.). Some kids are, a little - they're left cold by stories with make-believe characters and suchlike, but might devour nonfiction, in general or about some interest. Give them only "storybooks," though and you might lose them. But others, it's important to remember, might find that sort of thing boring, but might happily disappear into imaginary worlds. Give them only nonfiction books about U.S. presidents, or spiders, though, any you might lose them. That's why, as much as possible, you try to find out about your students, build on their strengths, try to fortify their weaknesses. It's why, in the brief time that I was teaching, I plowed a not-insignificant portion of my salary back into building a decent classroom library full of all sorts of books, from marvelous and profusely illustrated books full of facts on pyramids or inventions or famous people to classics of children's lit old and new- from fantasy to gritty urban realism - and no small quantity of not-exactly spectacular (but much read) schlocky series and celebrity bios and such - so that for each kid, somewhere on those shelves one of those books might be the key that opened up that place in the head (the one that then has to be filled with more book)s, or at least kept it open a little longer. For some reason that I'm trying to understand, you'd have demanded that I hide half of them. If I thought you actually understood the issues here, I'm not sure I could be as polite as I'm trying to be.

There are of course, countless other things to say, about the very different skills demanded and taught by fiction and nonfiction, or the many reasons to teach fiction, beside that it might be useful in the workplace (The idea, for example, that we're educating not just workers but citizens (remember, some ideas you might grasp best through reading history, but for others, the royal road might be, for example, 1984), and humans, and heirs to a rich, ancient and ongoing tapestry of culture, and etc. But this comment's a bit long already, so let's leave it at that.

-Dan S.

Dan said...

One thing: - when I wrote "Imagine teaching [law] students who had only read, at best, what was assigned? - I meant not just for the the class, but ever - that the totality of their book reading from kindergarten to today was limited to whatever their teachers/profs had assigned, because really, why bother otherwise? Certainly there are many people like that - does this describe the average law student?

Ann Althouse said...

Dan: Thanks for your thoughtful comment, possibly the longest comment composed of original material ever written on this blog. I'll respond point by point.

"First off, Ann, let me say that you're not entirely wrong. The current thinking is that fiction may have been overemphasized in the early grades, causing problems later on - esp. in high school - where kids are increasingly required to read for information in heavy subject-matter textbooks."

Thanks. Though I'd say this understates the value of nonfiction. It's not just reading "for information." It also sharpens critical thinking. It's about reasoning and marshalling information to establish an argument or thesis.

"It's also been suggested that this may be turning off children who are naturally drawn to nonfiction."

Possibly to the disadvantage of boys, and not doing any service to girls, who might be drawn into science or academic pursuits.

"But we're working on this. When I was (briefly) teaching (in middle school), literacy class included a range of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. There was a growing emphasis on reading for information that was reflected both in other subjects (we do, in fact, like trevor pointed out, also teach literacy skills in history class - textbooks don't read themselves, y'know!) and in, for example, the kinds of books in our guided reading program, which ranged from balanced to non-fiction-heavy for the reasons listed above. The writing curriculum also was very strongly tilted towards informational and persuasive writing."

Good.

"I think the post mainly reflects your particular personal experiences, though. You've mentioned elsewhere that "I just don't like novels very much. . . . novels also contain plenty of foolish notions, tedious observations, phony depictions of human nature, and awful writing. I'm most interested in learning about things that are true and hearing great ideas, and I have never found novels to be a particularly rich source. Of course there are the emotion-stirring stories, but for that, there are so many movies to see, nearly all of which are fiction. But I find I don't have much interest in stories "."

That's an old post with a certain amount of hyperbole. I'm tired of the overrating of fiction, but it isn't just about me. I have spoken with others who agree and I think there is something here about the dominance of women in early education.

"There's also that 10:00pm outburst here in comments, and your constant, somewhat disparaging-sounding references to "storybooks"."

For all your affinity to literature, you don't seem to get my literarary style. You're offended by what you call outbursts. If you're so worried about passion, why are you even interested in fiction? I suspect you're actually less interested in fiction than I am. I've worked extensively editing fiction, and I've written two (unpublished) novels.

"It would seem that the attitudes behind this post perhaps stem from a) simply never finding much enjoyment or value in fiction, then b) being pushed to read lots of (often low-quality) fiction in school, and finally c) spending years trying (as you've mentioned before) to trudge through lots of novels because of "the impression that the best people read novels.""

No, I've read and enjoyed many classic novels and have read more of them on my own time than most people, but I don't like the way they are overrated. Many of them are precious and tedious and are written by individuals who don't really understand life and their fellow human beings very well. I have known a few novelist, really, and I don't trust their judgment. Some of them are worth reading anyway, but they are overrated by people who have been taught to be too respectful.

"It makes me tired and unhappy just imagining it!"

Jeez, you sound a little weak! Like a novelist!

"(One good thing that came out of Whole Language -whatever else one thinks of it - was that it brought a lot of excellent kidlit into the classroom, and probably helped encourage the flowering of children's books that really took off in the mid-ish 70s, and which you may have missed, whether or not it would've made a difference)."

Oh, bullshit. I had children who were born in the early 80s. The house was full of books. We practically lived at Borders.

"There's also the apparent premise that the only real purpose of schooling - not one extremely important one, but the only one - is preparing for economic success later in life."

No. I think they should be educated for the purpose of being able to think competently about how they should live and then to be able to pursue what they want, limited by an understanding of what they owe to society, like being able to provide for themselves, being good citizens, and participating in democratic self-governance.

"Many people would disagree - but even conceding this for the sake of argument, the post just doesn't make sense."

Read the above statement of what I really mean and see if it makes sense.

"For starters - one powerful tool in teaching kids history can be historical fiction. Used carefully, it can play an important role for many kids in raising interest, evoking the 'other country' of the past, and getting them to really think about what life in a different time was like - one way of making it real for them."

I would accept historical fiction as within what I was talking about. Social studies books for young children could include made up characters.

"One can try to do the same thing with, say, biographies, well-written nonfiction accounts, and primary sources (all very important tools, for these and other purposes), but it's hard for me to understand why one would insist they they must be used exclusively, especially given that fiction is specialized for certain purposes - in large part, ones related to the goals I just listed."

I agree.

"All of these tools have their strengths and weaknesses - why should we arbitrarily toss out the screwdriver in favor of only using the hammer? If I was teaching about the Lowell mills and the technological, industrial and social changes they represented and helped foster, there are many kinds of materials I could use , including the textbook, various high-quality (and eye-catchingly illustrated) nonfiction books, an excerpt from the Lowell Offering (the literary magazine published by the mill girls) - and, perhaps Katherine Patterson's excellent book Lyddie. Why would you demand that I not use it, even though for some kids it might be the best chance of making Lyddie's nonfiction equivalents - and that time - seem real and meaningful?"

This would be fine. I'm not trying to draw a hard line against fiction, just saying that reading should be taught from texts that impart learning appropriate to fields like history and science.

"There's a broader issue, though, that seems related to overreliance on personal experience. You talk about teaching your law students to read cases, but while you mention that they're adults, there are immense differences that you seem not to dwell on. They're quite skilled and successful academically, for example, and are presumably far more literate than the average American, who reads at about an 8th or 9th grade level. They're more or less able to reason pretty well, and are, one would guess, fairly good at self-control and -regulation, planning, effectively pursuing a goal, and all those other fun executive functions, generally highly motivated, and often from (I assume) at least relatively comfortable backgrounds with reserves of economic, social, and cultural capital to draw on. These are not things one can taken for granted in many K-12 classrooms, and indeed, can be assumed to not apply, even adjusted for age, to some number of students."

True enough, but the texts can be written at whatever level is needed. This is done all the time in educational publishing. I assume there are people who specialize in rewriting to put the text at the needed grade level.

"You write about how "kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home, but as Auguste pointed out over at Pandagon, this is a rather privileged view, especially since many folks are understanding you (incorrectly, I think?) as saying that kids should be taught to read using current history and science textbooks."

Yeah, well is it "privileged" of me to say that the "folks" over there aren't doing a competent job of reading and understanding my post?Obviously, I wouldn't just throw any old "textbook" at a child of any age! Are they trying to be that dense?

"(Granted, I loved my social studies and science textbooks as a kid, but I also spent most of 6th grade happily ignoring whatever lesson was being taught in favor of reading Shakespeare, Achebe, Chinese philosophy, and primate evolution, and am not entirely representative (frankly, I just peaked early, and arguably have been going downhill since)). You seem to be suggesting that kids from environments where -parents might read poorly if at all, there are few if any books around, bedtime stories are quite possibly unknown, trips to any local library (if it's open for more than a few hours a week) are a rarity at best , there may be no models of reading books for information, let alone pleasure, and academic achievement may be an unfamiliar or at worst actively discouraged idea! - should march off to school only to be handed some dry and concise history or science textbook to extract info from, and then somehow get the idea, upon returning home, to curl up with a novel! Yes, a few might. Perhaps."

Well, look at how kids go for Harry Potter. I think compulsory schooling is too intrusive on children to be used frivolously. You don't capture people and then just purport to show them a fun time. It's irresponsible. And the big fascination with novels is itself elitist, so it is a bit hypocritical to play the "underprivileged" card. The pushers of fiction stories are elitists themselves and think they know what the people they look down on as inferior ought to be doing. These are generally affluent white women. I'm guessing they think the world would be great if only people would read Jane Austen.

"Even a more reasonable proposal about using excellent and engaging nonfiction works (which should be happening anyway!) assumes that kids are just going to pick up the idea of pleasure reading: if it's not in their environment, that's very far from a guarantee."

And so what if they don't? What if the kids find other interests, like music or building things or computers or science? What's wrong with that? Why is reading fiction crucial? It's just not. Why not worry that people don't read philosophy? Or, back to the original subject, history? I'd say those things are at least as important. Why is the failure to care about fiction so important? I contend that it is only viewed as important by teachers because they tend to be the kind of people who themselves have a personal love of fiction. Now, again, who's the elistist?

"One of the strategies I taught in middle school involved figuring out how to pick out what books to read. Some kids needed the help (indeed, occasionally that's an issue with poor/apathetic readers - they might, wonderfully, find something that strikes a spark, and read through (for example) all the Harry Potter books . . . and then just stop, not knowing where to go next.)"

Fine. It's good to help them. I'd let kids loose in a library or bookstore and see what they find. That's what I did with my kids... and they did not end up in the fiction section.

"You're taking so much for granted. When you write "leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint," that's a sensible or even rousing call on behalf of the ranks of overscheduled and overstressed middle&upper-middle class children raised on Baby Stephen Hawking and shuttled from one enrichment activity to another. It becomes less so for those who don't have access to such opportunities. Ann, my wife teaches kindergarten in a extremely poor, troubled, and violent Philly neighborhood (yes, there are other kinds . . .). A while back she had a little guy, born here of non-immigrant parents, who didn't know what crayons were. Not the word "crayon" - the thing."

So did that disable him from looking for his own interests? If you put him in a room that included crayons, would he be at a loss to discover what to do with them? I admire you and your wife for teaching, especially among nonaffluent kids, but I don't accept talking about them as if they were mentally disabled because of their parents.

"That's unusual, but you get the idea. (Even parents who are far more on the ball, especially if they have very little money, and less time, and may not share a particular, largely class-based view of childrearing, are they going to buy their kids musical instruments, or sign them up for dance lessons?)"

So? People find different ways. I want school to improve their capacities. I'm talking about more science and history. Where does more fiction reading help them do better? That's the flaw with what you are saying now as you drift into complaining about economic disparities.

"Within these confines of personal experience, I'm not sure you grasp the urgency with which teachers - especially in poor schools, but everywhere a child might be having trouble reading - try to find books and practices which will motivate the child, that will make them want to read. It's not just about inculcating certain attitudes, etc. (although that's big too, despite you judging it of minimal importance). Imagine teaching law students who simply didn't like reading, of any sort, avoided it whenever possible, and rarely had the intellectual and emotional maturity to grasp that it was important and necessary for later on?"

You're assuming that fiction causes the love of reading and that only fiction causes the love of reading. I simply don't believe this! I am arguing for science and history books that are extremely interesting and exciting to read and that engage students with the whole process of education and connect them to a real career path. You know it's funny that you criticized me at first for caring about the student's future economic success, but now you criticize me for not caring abou their economic stature. Which is it? Do we want education to improve them economically or not?

"Imagine teaching students who had only read, at best, what was assigned? - Because however much is taught in school, a great deal of fluency, facility, vocabulary, background knowledge, etc. come from reading extensively and frequently. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice."

What's the connection to my point? You seem to assume a magical power for fiction and that nonfiction is painfully dry. There is no basis for that assumption.

"And we come back to an understanding that I always thought was vital to being a good teacher (though perhaps it's different for the really big kids): Not everyone is Ann Althouse (Or Dan S., or etc.). Some kids are, a little - they're left cold by stories with make-believe characters and suchlike, but might devour nonfiction, in general or about some interest. Give them only "storybooks," though and you might lose them. But others, it's important to remember, might find that sort of thing boring, but might happily disappear into imaginary worlds."

Let them do that in their spare time. And find get some better science and history books.

"Give them only nonfiction books about U.S. presidents, or spiders, though, any you might lose them."

Get better nonfiction books.

"That's why, as much as possible, you try to find out about your students, build on their strengths, try to fortify their weaknesses."

I don't think escapism is a good response to kids who won't pay attention to science.

"It's why, in the brief time that I was teaching, I plowed a not-insignificant portion of my salary back into building a decent classroom library full of all sorts of books, from marvelous and profusely illustrated books full of facts on pyramids or inventions or famous people to classics of children's lit old and new- from fantasy to gritty urban realism - and no small quantity of not-exactly spectacular (but much read) schlocky series and celebrity bios and such - so that for each kid, somewhere on those shelves one of those books might be the key that opened up that place in the head (the one that then has to be filled with more book)s, or at least kept it open a little longer. For some reason that I'm trying to understand, you'd have demanded that I hide half of them."

No, I'm just saying that in class time -- as opposed to outside reading -- should be used on academic subjects to give the kids more value.

"If I thought you actually understood the issues here, I'm not sure I could be as polite as I'm trying to be."

Well, if I'd read that sentence before starting this serious engagement with you, I wouldn't have taken the trouble, you sanctimonious, elitist prig.

Thers said...


Well, if I'd read that sentence before starting this serious engagement with you, I wouldn't have taken the trouble, you sanctimonious, elitist prig.


The best argument against fiction is probably that it can never be more improbable, or hilarious, than Ann Althouse.

Ann Althouse said...

Thers comes from the school of anti-Althousiana writing that can never think of anything to say but you're crazy/stupid. Really, why do you even care about fictional literature when you are so lacking in creativity yourself, you pathetic old dolt? How's your job, by the way?

Dan said...

Ann - thanks for the lengthy response to to my decidedly long-winded comment. I have a bunch of yardwork to try to finish before it starts raining - acres of goutweed to pull up, curse that plant - but for now, let me just link to Janet over at Adventures in Ethics and Science. She has a fairly concise and elegant reply to the post - and is a philosophy prof & chem. Ph.D., and so perhaps may seem more credible than mere elitist fiction-loving teachers.

One thing, though:

"You seem to assume a magical power for fiction . . .
I'm apologize for not writing clearly enough. In the next paragraph of mine you quote, I try to point out that while some children may devour nonfiction, finding little of interest in "storybooks," as you put it, others may be devour fiction, and not be so hot on nonfiction; thus, the class should be exposed to both, as a way of motivating children to work at learning to read, finding it a rewarding and personally useful thing, and thereby improving their reading ability. (Remember, for the purpose of argument I'm only viewing fiction as a handmaiden to other areas, not as something intrinsically valuable (not a position I actually hold.)

In other words, I'm not assuming any difference between fiction and nonfiction, just in the children. One can go overboard in presenting teaching as some sort of mystical art, but all the same, they aren't actually identical widgets. Indeed, tou do something similar in talking about my comparison between your law students and, say, elementary school kids in Philly. You write:
"True enough, but the texts can be written at whatever level is needed. . . . I assume there are people who specialize in rewriting to put the text at the needed grade level.

Well, no doubt - indeed, I was taking it for granted that the texts involved would be at the appropriate grade level (which, sadly is often far beyond many of the kids). However, I wasn't talking about differences between the texts, but between the people. The students you teach are college graduates attending law school (hence presumably quite academically skilled and successful), are basically adults (with brains that are largely mature), probably have strong extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to work hard and succeed, and likely do quite well re: various cognitive abilities, learned behaviors, and such that in the past sometimes were lumped under 'character' - ie, to defer gratification, to careful;u plan out and make appropriate progress towards a distant goal, to self-regulate, to undertake dull or even distasteful activities for future payoff, etc.

Especially in elementary and middle school, teachers cannot count on this, both because they teach children, and because classrooms contain students with a (sometimes very) wide range of abilities and experiences. The closest equivalent would be if your classes contained not all college graduates who had applied and been accepted into law school, but simply that number of, say, 23-year-olds drawn from the surrounding neighborhood. (Although they'd still be adults, and not 8-year-olds).

Anyway, we do agree that excellent and engaging nonfiction in the classroom is a very important thing.

"Jeez, you sound a little weak! Like a novelist!"
Ha! Actually, I live in an unheated garret and cough constantly - presumably consumption, while sighing listly - well, no, but it would be amusing . . .

"Oh, bullshit. I had children who were born in the early 80s
I was trying to avoid saying, well, but you couldn't have experienced that firsthand as a child, when your views on the subject were being shaped. But if you think that whole line of reasoning is off base, well, you know yourself best. In which case I'm a bit at a loss to figure out why you're making such a proposal, and at this point am trying to put off pulling goutweed, so away I go.

-Dan S.

Dan said...

No, I didn't hit Preview first (sighing "listly"? What's that, when one wearily breathes out a succession of bullet points or numbered items, like foggy breath on a cold day?). Yes, I'm a horrible person. (But proper spelling and grammar is so elitist, after all - surely it's only pushed by affluent white women who themselves enjoying spelling well, and think they know what people who they look down on as inferior should be doing . . .)

jacksonicole said...

"Thers comes from the school of anti-Althousiana writing that can never think of anything to say but you're crazy/stupid."

Wow, really? I find dismissing people who disagree with you as "crazy/stupid" to be very Althousian.

Ann Althouse said...

Well, jacksonicole, you must not be reading very much around here. I give reasons for my opinions. You'll have to look long and hard around here for posts of mine that just point to something someone wrote and say they're crazy or stupid. I may establish along the way that a person is a fool, but I do substantiate my positions, and I normally talk about the ideas not the person (though I admit I choose some people to mock, but I give my reasons).

Thers said...

Thers comes from the school of anti-Althousiana writing that can never think of anything to say but you're crazy/stupid. Really, why do you even care about fictional literature when you are so lacking in creativity yourself, you pathetic old dolt? How's your job, by the way?

Fantastic! How's yours?

"Pathetic old dolt"? Not a very good insult; too clumsy.

As for creativity, well, let me just call you Thalia, if you don't mind.

Poster said...

This is the single most stoopid idea I've ever heard. (Besides invading Iraq.)

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

We here at Contingencies reluctantly agree with most of Ms. Althouse's argument contra-belle-lettres, tho' for different reasons, most likely. One, fiction (drama, poetry, etc.), however marvelous rhetorically, is not true, even when that fiction is "social realist" or something (the same might be said for films, too---and George Lucas may be doing more damage than Lit. does). An obvious point, but one overlooked by many in the Lit. business: Bertrand Russell, perhaps a few other skeptics, such as CP Snow, were aware of literary deception, and aware of how the literary artifice tends to replace not only history, but scientific and mathematical studies: high school students know all about Hamlet, and very little about the court of Henry VIII. Russell may have softened on his anti-aesthetic programme as he aged, but one senses (even from his more popular essays) that he felt literature was on the whole superfluous (and perhaps there are others who would rather read, well, Russell, than the crypto-theology of a James Joyce, or the pulp of any Victorian writer you care to name)....

H.J. said...

You're an idiot and should leave language alone. Go watch 'Survivor' you twit.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Think so, mon phrere? Point out the specific assertion which you think is mistaken. Althouse at least realizes what pathetic whiners and irrational frauds most English-lit people are (but say it trippingly on the tongue!). Indeed your whiny pseudo-sophisticated response is rather typical of the pro. belle-lettrist. Ezra Pound hisself detested most of the literati.

Elizabeth said...

Ann -
i agree with a general detestation of "literature"
this is because i was hooked on science fiction at age 5.
emphasis on SCIENCE there... Heinlein's juvenile novels should be used in every elementary school, to show HOW science is both fun and useful... and Heinlein explains the science he uses.
Fiction has many uses, but something that entertains AS it educates (and that actually educates!) should not be lumped in with the drivel of "Wuthering Heights".
Novels that have a point besides a line of words...
some great ones have been listed already.
i will add to them:
Ender's Game (emphasis on hard sciences and politics in the real world, something most schools miss)
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (emphasis on hard sciences, math, and hard work/determination [work ethic])
the Geodyssy series, at least excerpts (anthropological studies set in fiction)
the Honor Harrington Series (for those interested in physics! the man is WORDY with his gravitational explanations!)

those 4 are just off the top of my head.

most FICTION writers (as opposed to LITERATURE writers) write a great story hinged on a concrete detail (or ten). how small pox affected the smaller tribes in North America; internal combustion vs. external combustion; gravity as it relates to movement (flight and space, esp.); modern tribal movements, extended to a logic conclusion; reimposition of slavery or serfdom, under a different name, for the sake of "progress"; democratic ideals vs. "Bread and Cicuses"...
Fiction, if it is not just a pile of paper and drivel, helps to teach one to THINK. not just to pass a test, but to test everything around you.

tariely said...

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