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Classic literature is here to stay

• Cari Miller

There is an unfortunate misperception that the Common Core State Standards will create a dramatic switch from fiction to non-fiction texts in English class. That simply isn’t the case. Don Quixote and To Kill a Mockingbird aren’t going anywhere.

The CCSS call for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language to be taught in all classrooms – from science to technical subjects. For example, historical documents in social sciences will constitute non-fiction reading. This is to ensure students will be proficient in mastering complex, informational text in a variety of content areas, a requirement if they are to graduate prepared for college or career training. As David Coleman and others have pointed out repeatedly, the requirement for more non-fiction texts is intended to span across all subjects, not just English.

There is also an ongoing argument about whether content area teachers should teach reading. Some say that it is not their job, which baffles me. There is a big difference between teaching kids how to read and teaching kids to think critically about what they read so they walk away with deep understanding about the content being taught. This is their job, and finally there are standards that require it!

That there will be more emphasis on non-fiction in all classes certainly doesn’t mean English classes will purge or minimize classic literature.

Please peruse the actual list of “example” texts from the CCSS.  It is broken down by grade level and is an interesting skim.  In doing so, you can see some wonderful lists of “exemplar” literary works and non-fiction texts, such as:

For 6-8 grades

  • John Adams, Letter on Thomas Jefferson
  • Winston Churchill, Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat
  • Louisa May Allcot, Little Women
  • John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Preamble and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
  • Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

For 9-10 grade students:

  • Homer’s Odyssey
  • O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi
  • Kafka’s Metamorphosis
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
  • George Washington’s Farewell Address
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
  • Ronald Reagan’s Address to students at Moscow State University
  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth

For 11-12 grade students:

  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  • Jane Austen,  Pride and Prejudice
  • National Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Thomas Paine, Common Sense
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

I personally think these texts and other examples listed are a balance of great literary works and non-fiction texts that students should be given the opportunity to read, critically think about, and walk away with a deep understanding of the text read and the concepts being taught.


About the author

Cari Miller

Cari Miller serves as Policy Director of Early Literacy for ExcelinEd. She works hand in hand with states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy, and she supports state departments with effective policy implementation. Cari is a former elementary teacher and reading coach. She also served as the Deputy Director of Just Read, Florida!, Governor Jeb Bush’s statewide literacy initiative. At Just Read, Florida!, she served in other capacities, including: Elementary Reading Specialist, Director of Reading First and Director of Elementary Reading. Her sole mission is to improve student reading achievement across the nation.