'Head' and 'Heart' Fundamental to Reading

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To the Editor:

In the Education Week account of a training session on the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts, we get one more glimpse into the concept of reading that shapes the standards. And the news is not good. Promoters of the reading standards continue to draw a line in the sand between the experience of the reader and "the text itself." They disconnect meaning (in the text) from feeling (in the reader).

One of the session leaders, David Liben, is quoted as saying, "In college and careers, no one cares how you feel." He does, however, acknowledge that a student's experience can be helpful after a second or third reading. This view of reading is based on a discredited psychological model where "reasoning" and "feeling" are seen as distinct human faculties. Yet both are engaged in thoughtful reading, with emotional reactions regularly provoking us to reason and analyze. Even single words like "home" call up emotion and personal history. We can't help it. What writer would want a reader to withhold it?

Aristotle, of course, knew this. He analyzed the "pity and fear" we experience as we watch tragedy. He saw "pathos" as a central component of rhetoric. And he didn't see them operating after comprehension.

Promoters of the common core may say that they are simply trying to redirect attention to the text. Well and good. But they are replacing one extremism with another. When we read attentively, we are reading as complete human beings, with head and heart.

Thomas Newkirk
Professor of ENglish
University of New Hampshire
Durham, N.H.

Vol. 31, Issue 35, Page 33

Published in Print: June 13, 2012, as 'Head' and 'Heart' Fundamental to Reading
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