To the Editor:
The Commentary “Let’s Spread the Blame for Reading Underachievement” (Dec. 8, 2010) suggests that an incoherent English curriculum and a lack of teaching of analytical skills in schools are dilemmas facing our education system. While the content that author Sandra Stotsky discussed here is important, the route she suggests to address this issue is concerning.
As an experienced high school English teacher, I can assure you that at the hand of “coherence,” we will lose relevance. Yes, give students foundational skills, but also provide the space for teachers to adapt the curriculum to students’ experiences. The works of great academics from Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay to Paulo Freire promise us that you will not lose rigor at the price of engaging students.
On the contrary, I argue that the agenda in the Commentary cannot be established without the careful consideration of the individual students who sit before us. Ms. Stotsky refers to an “intellectually progressive curriculum”; however, there is nothing progressive about the agenda that she discusses. John Dewey, a true Progressive, would be appalled by the thought of an assembly-line curriculum that taught students material strictly because that is the tradition. Analytical skills can be taught through different avenues utilizing the Habits of Mind and real-world applications.
In this same issue, we read about the crisis of dropouts. Teaching students to analyze the plot, characters, and story line (as the author suggests) will not keep them in school; rather, providing them with real-world connections and skills they see as meaningful to their future will keep them engaged and motivated, which are necessary factors that achievement and motivation theory teaches us.
Most concerning to me is the argument in this essay for removing the heart and soul from education: the teachers and students. Establishing a removed, cookie-cutter approach to teaching and learning will not guarantee that students become more analytical thinkers who are prepared for their future. Trusting the skills of trained educators to adapt material to the needs and passions of the students who sit before them is what our educational system needs.
Jennifer R. Pieratt
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Reading Instruction Won’t Cut It