UPDATED - US School Curriculum: Classics to be Dropped in Favor of “Informational Texts”

Catcher in the Rye dropped in favour of 'informational texts'


While not factually incorrect, the Telegraph article is biased and uses the same words as other articles on the subject, but not in the right order -- and doesn’t tell the whole story. It looks like it was actually based on a Washington Post article HERE.

This Huffington Post article and this Independent article are a little more rational and reflect that it’s the interpretation by educators rather than the Code which is the problem.

The Common Core State Standards are NOT suggesting replacing literature with these non-fiction titles. In fact, the exact wording in the Code states:

The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.

In practice, what seems to be happening is that educators at a local level are misinterpreting the wording of the code. And yes, Recommended Levels of Insulation and the Invasive Plant Inventory are listed as suggested readings - for Science, Mathematics, and Technical Subjects.

When I read this article in the Telegraph, I had a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ moment: a new curriculum for schools will be put in place by 2014 which will make it compulsory for at least 70 percent of books studied in the classroom to be non-fiction.

Affecting 46 of the 50 states, suggested titles include: Recommended Levels of Insulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Invasive Plant Inventory by California’s Invasive Plant Council.

While Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is not listed on the suggested readings, the article’s not entirely correct when it says Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be dropped - it’s on the list. That said, it does look like the amount of fiction read will be cut down significantly and some teachers feel it will be detrimental to children’s education.

I'm afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes. In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn't it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?

said Jamie Highfill, a teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Arkansas.

Proponents argue it will benefit pupils by helping them “develop the ability to write concisely and factually.”

I don’t know about you, but I have to say Recommended Levels of Insulation doesn’t sound like a lot of fun…

Dean Fetzer

News by Dean Fetzer

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for the past 21 years. After a career in graphic design, he started a pub review website in the late 90’s; He left that in 2011 to concentrate on his thriller writing, as well as offering publishing services for authors, poets and artists. When not writing - or in the pub - he can be found in the theatre, live music venues and travelling.

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Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine December 10, 2012 - 3:13pm

Well, I believe the children WERE our future. Glad I'll be dead.

Tsofit Dangoor's picture
Tsofit Dangoor from Nesher, Israel is reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas December 10, 2012 - 3:25pm

And just when you all thought things couldn't get worse... 

Sara Zweig's picture
Sara Zweig December 10, 2012 - 5:08pm

THIS IS AN INACCURATE REPRESENTATION OF THE NEW U.S. EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS. The Telegraph has obviously not read the Common Core State Standards. Please look at the skill listed in the CCSS and the recommended reading list. "Recommended Levels of Insulation" is NOT listed as a replacement for fiction. It isn't even listed as recommended reading for English classes!

This is a reactionary article that has no root in fact.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 10, 2012 - 5:55pm

If anyone wants to hear from a guy who actually helped write the standards, you can do so here: http://www.studio360.org/2012/nov/30/english-class-hold-literature/  --- good story, I thought.

People act like if the board drops a couple of books it's "censorship." They must not think about the fact someone officiated the inlcusion of those books in the first place.

rmatthewsimmons's picture
rmatthewsimmons from Salt Lake City, UT is reading I just put down 'A Game of Thrones' after 6 chapters....Couldn't do it. December 10, 2012 - 7:15pm

Hmmm... I'm not certain exactly how accurate this article is, but I do recall a push during an early part of this last election to push for Universities to drop Liberal Arts classes and programs so that students could 'focus' on degrees that, as they put it, had value and would provide them a job when they graduated. Meaning: Business, Science, Engineering. I cannot recall if English or even Political Science was ever mentioned in the negative, but still, makes one think... unless you've received a one sided education.


Gretel (The Children Of The Sun) Book One

Lou's picture
Lou from AMERIKUH is reading Trainspotting December 10, 2012 - 7:50pm

That fucking sucks. English classes are already crap though, and most English teachers don't know shit about shit.

Ben Villeneuve's picture
Ben Villeneuve from Maine is reading Gardens of the Moon December 10, 2012 - 8:00pm

Oh wow. Jeez. Yeah, I saw this on Reddit earlier and, as is always the case with reactionary drivel like this Telegraph article, they picked at the sensationalism in much the same way Sara Zweig did above. The Common Core standards in English are actually really good about balancing practical language use with language-as-self expression. The standards for informational texts and for literature are separate from one another but are given pretty much the same emphasis.

A request from a regular reader: Keep this garbage off LitReactor. This site seriously needs better standards for what gets posted.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade December 10, 2012 - 9:56pm

the children WERE our future. Glad I'll be dead

Ditto. Screw it. If they don't enjoy the best of civilization's imaginative literature, just let them be literate enough to read a manual.

BTW: schools are NOT interested in building better people, only in social engineering of children into good consumers and workers.

Bah. Humbug. Over, and out.

Tsofit Dangoor's picture
Tsofit Dangoor from Nesher, Israel is reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas December 10, 2012 - 11:57pm

BTW: schools are NOT interested in building better people, only in social engineering of children into good consumers and workers.


aka human livestock 

Too true, Boone Spaulding. 

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago December 11, 2012 - 7:25am

We are doomed.  It seems that we are destined to be a race of consumers and clerks. 

So it goes.

K. C. Kimbril's picture
K. C. Kimbril from the USA is reading Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri December 11, 2012 - 8:45am

Thanks for updating this Dean. The new reading standards of the Common Core are really more about teaching reading FOR subjects. It's important for kids to learn how to read science text books, history text books, and yes, even math text books. That means their science, math, and social studies teachers will be responsible for teaching the reading skills required to understand these texts. Everyone will be a reading teacher, not just the English teachers. That 70% refers to the final exams required for graduation. 70% of the exam in high school consists of informational texts, and that exam consists of all major subjects not just English.

50% of the exam to pass elementary school consists of literature, and it's about a 60/40 split in middle grades. Student will still get plenty of creative thinking and fun learning time, but it's more age appropriate. There is very little reason to teach the parts of a story to a group of seniors who've gotten the same exact lesson every year since 1st grade. We're not supposed to hold them back from learning more, we're supposed to build on what they already know so they can understand it at a more meaningful level.

Mr. B's picture
Mr. B December 11, 2012 - 10:05am

As a high school English teacher, let me say a few things:

  • Fiction isn't going anywhere. If anything, the CCSS has exceptionally high standards for the kinds of literature that should be read at certain levels.
  • Informational texts are sorely undertaught in middle school and high school language arts classrooms, in my experience. (Part of that is because ELA teachers tend to prefer narrative over informational texts; part is because students do as well.) CCSS is trying to fix that problem, since students need to know how to read informational texts effectively to meet CCR (college- and career-ready) standards.
  • Part of this is standardized-test-driven (and no, I don't like that much). Look at the Reading test on the ACT: 4 passages, 3 of which are informational. If students can't read informational texts effectively, that can hurt their chances of doing well on that test and possibly of getting into the school they want (at least in areas where ACT is preferred over the SAT). If you're in a state like mine that has myopically decided to make all students (not merely college-bound ones) take the ACT, then you really have to make sure you prepare students for informational texts because it reflects on your performance as a teacher.
  • Yes, we want to have students who read engaging, imaginative literature, but frankly, students can do that on their own. Literature should be about exposing students to things they might not otherwise read and making them think about its meaning and delivery (style, language, etc.) in deeper, more meaningful ways. (Literary analysis that doesn't do this is, in my opinion, largely a waste of time.)
  • For those people who say that English education or education in general is crap now - easy to say, but harder to reform. CCSS helps in some ways, but in others, it has made our job a lot harder. Don't be too comfortable criticizing unless you're willing to help fix the problems.
jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 11, 2012 - 10:14am

Thank you, last two comments.

wavedomer's picture
wavedomer from Boise is reading Rum Punch December 11, 2012 - 10:42am

Just as an addition, if kids not reading literature is a concern to you, there are things you can do. I know in Boise they have the Literary Log Cabin that brings in authors, holds writing camps for kids, etc. When I lived in Los Angeles they had a huge Festival of Books. The public library in Boise also does a ton of things for kids. I'm sure that's the same in a lot of places. As a parent of 3 young kids, I'm actively building a library for them at home. When I see great books on sale, even if they are too old for them, I buy them. Point being, if you don't want something to go away, don't let it.

CCM-LA's picture
CCM-LA from Los Angeles is reading The Lawgiver, Herman Wouk December 11, 2012 - 11:07am

"...it will benefit pupils by helping them 'develop the ability to write concisely and factually.'”... like Twitter! ;)


Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons December 11, 2012 - 10:06pm

I want to get my nephew a book. I open Treasure Island and a few other classica Nd Fter re- readings a few paid realize he will never get started in this. I hope I'm wrong.