Common Standards: Why the Grudge Against Stories?

By Anthony Rebora — May 18, 2012 1 min read
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As has been widely reported, the College Board named David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, as its in-coming president this week. The news has brought renewed attention to a statement Coleman made during a 2011 speech to the effect that, out in the working world, you will rarely hear a request like “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” (You probably won’t hear people being called by their last names at work nowadays, either, but that’s a different story.)

Since the common standards place increased emphasis on “informational texts” in reading and writing, Coleman’s remark has been taken as emblematic of a cold-hearted disregard for the power of stories and personal narrative in children’s development. But, while sympathetic to the concerns of aghast language arts teachers everywhere, education writer Dana Goldstein argues that, despite his bombast, there’s a complex and solidly-grounded rationale behind Coleman’s thinking:

When schools don't require students to interact with difficult, non-fiction texts, they deny them the opportunity to build the skills they need to amplify their thoughts and opinions, by writing them clearly and backing them up with evidence. Coleman is correct that ultimately, most college-student and adult writers are judged less on their ability to reflect on their own lives, and more on their ability to reflect on the world of ideas and events around them—whether they are drafting a final paper about a classic novel, a letter-to-the-editor about a local political race, or a memo outlining their company's web strategy.
There is something valuable in Coleman's promotion of non-narrative reading and evidence-based writing, especially in a culture of reality television and Facebook "timelines," in which the prosaic events of individual lives are opened up to public consumption and critique. ...

Ideally, that is, students might be forced to come out of what some educators see as increasingly prevalent “self-referential bubbles” that limit background knowledge and intellectual curiosity.

Your thoughts? What is the role of stories and narrative writing in language arts classes? Will that role be jeopardized by the common standards? Can it be balanced with the emphasis on more information-based reading and writing?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.