Saturday, August 06, 2005


Kids get textbooks designed to bore rather than real literature that can excite

In July, the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated standardized test, showed the reading skills of high school students haven't improved since 1999. And last week, the Pew Research Center's Internet Project reported that for today's teenagers, "the Internet and cell phones have become a central force that fuels the rhythm of daily life." Eighty-seven percent of America's kids ages 12 to 17 spend time online. E-mail is no longer fast enough for most teens who are using instant messenger and text messaging to keep up with their friends.

Faced with declining literacy and the ever-growing distractions of the electronic media, faced with the fact that - Harry Potter fans aside - so few kids curl up with a book and read for pleasure anymore, what do we teachers do? We saddle students with textbooks that would turn off even the most passionate reader.

Just before the school year ended in June, my colleagues in the English department at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and central office administrators discussed which textbook to adopt for the 9th- and 10th-grade World Literature course for next year. Of the four texts that the state approved, the choices came down to two: the Elements of Literature: World Literature from Holt, Rinehart and Winston and The Language of Literature: World Literature from McDougal Littell. The problems with these two tomes are similar to the problems with high school textbooks in most subjects.

First, there's the well-documented weight problem. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has said that an increase in back injuries among children might be attributed to the enormous textbooks they lug around in their backpacks. Injuries aside, what kid is going to sit in a chair and relax with a heavy hardcover, 9-inch-by-11-inch compendium? Worse is the fact that for all their bulk, the textbooks are feather-weight intellectually......

Take the McDougal Littell text that we finally adopted for 9th- and 10th-graders. It starts off with a unit titled "Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Hebrew Literature," followed by sections on the literature of Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient China and Japan. Then comes "Persian and Arabic Literature" and "West African Oral Literature" - and that's only the first third of the book. There are still more than 800 pages to plough through, but it's the same drill - short excerpts from long works - a little Dante here, a little Goethe there and two whole pages dedicated to Shakespeare's plays. One even has a picture of a poster from the film Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes kissing Gwyneth Paltrow. The other includes the following (which is sure to turn teens on to the Bard):

"Notice the insight about human life that the following lines from The Tempest convey:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Shakespeare's plays are treasures of the English language."

Both books are full of obtrusive directions, comments, questions and pictures that would hinder even the attentive readers from becoming absorbed in the readings. Both also "are not reader-friendly. There is no narrative coherence that a student can follow and get excited about. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that," says T.C. Williams reading specialist Chris Gutierrez, who teaches a course in reading strategies at Shenandoah University in Virginia. For kids who get books and reading opportunities only at school, these types of textbooks will drive them away from reading - perhaps for life.

Such texts bastardize literature and history, reducing authors and their works to historical facts to be memorized - what Alfie Kohn, author of The Schools Our Children Deserve, calls "the bunch o' facts" theory of learning. Students are jerked from one excerpt of literature to another, given no chance for the kind of sustained reading that stimulates the imagination.

One of the most popular books I teach is Night, Elie Wiesel's powerful remembrance about Nazi concentration camps. Even the most reluctant readers are enthralled by the 109-page narrative. The Holt, Rinehart and Winston World Literature text throws in seven pages of Night, cheating students out of the experience of reading the whole work and giving them the illusion that they know the book.

With my subject, English, special problems exist - any literature that has a whiff of controversy is kept out of texts to appease the moralists on the right, while second-rate "multicultural" literature is put in to appease the politically correct on the left. Quality is 'secondary'

As researcher Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police, wrote in the summer 2003 issue of American Educator, "Literary quality became secondary to representational issues." You will never see John Updike's A&P or Toni Cade Bambara's The Lesson - great short stories that kids can easily relate to - in these tomes because they might offend groups on either side of the political spectrum.

No matter how highly esteemed poet Denise Levertov is in academia, The Mutes- her poem that evokes intense discussion about sexual harassment - will never make its way into the bland 1,000-plus pages of a high school textbook. The McDougal Littell text proudly lists its 10-member "Multicultural Advisory Board" in its introduction.

A similar problem exists with math and science books. A study of textbooks by the American Association for the Advancement of Science concluded: "Today's textbooks cover too many topics without developing any of them well. Central concepts are not covered in enough depth to give students a chance to truly understand them."

'Teacher-proofing': Teachers who didn't major in science tend to "use textbooks - lean on them - more than better-qualified teachers do," Arthur Eisenkraft, former president of the National Science Teachers Association, told Science News in 2001. The desire of school officials to make courses teacher-proof - to put more faith in bland compendiums than in the skill of teachers - is only getting stronger with the spread of high-stakes state exams. Textbook companies now get state approval by boasting that their wares cover every possible skill demanded on state tests. The safe thing for school systems to do is to limit themselves to the state-approved books; if a school district adopts its own materials and its test scores go down, administrators could take the fall.

The fact is that for all the anxiety schools have about state exams, with the exception of science and math, those exams have turned into nothing more than minimum competency tests that any average student can pass with little preparation. And no decent teacher needs a 1,500-page text to prepare below-average students for these dumbed-down tests. It's time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that's paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry.

More here

Censoring A Conservative School Paper

No Conservatives Allowed by the champions of "diversity"

By Tyler Whitney

America's culture war is fought everyday with the country's most vulnerable soldiers -- conservative high school students. Conservative students such as me are ridiculed everyday as we fight to save America from the ongoing leftist assault. Unfortunately, spreading right-wing ideas is difficult when administrators muzzle conservative speech and indoctrinate students with liberal propaganda. Stalinism is alive and well at East Lansing High School.

On Tuesday March 19th, several conservative students distributed "The Right Way" -- a conservative paper independently organized and published. Instead of receiving accolades for extracurricular involvement, we were reprimanded for distributing our publication before the school approved it.

Frustrated yet cooperative, I visited the board office where Superintendent Dave Chapin banned our paper. Although his reasoning is unclear, he did mention that the John Birch Society is too extreme for East Lansing High School. Apparently, Dr. Chapin felt his superintendent status granted him authority to rate the extremity of content.

That night I immediately fired off press releases to every major media outlet. I wanted to make East Lansing High School regret their unconstitutional actions. Thankfully, I wasn't the only person who believed that ELHS was in the wrong. East Lansing High School received numerous phone calls from angry conservatives nationwide about the censorship of our paper.

Due to the awkward nature of the situation, I managed to completely avoid speaking to administrators while media coverage continued to pile up. Eventually, Principal Paula Steele granted our paper the status of a Non School Organization, meaning we had the same rights as groups that meet in the building after school.

Despite previous gratification, I was later informed that any content that can be traced to East Lansing High School must be removed. Principal Steele wanted me to remove an ad for my Teenage Republicans club as well as several other insignificant things.

Feeling rebellious, I distributed my paper with the banned content. As expected, I was caught and reprimanded. Unfortunately, my punishment was quite severe. Not only was I suspended, over 200 copies of "The Right Way" were trashed by school authorities.

After weeks of fighting, I have decided to give in to East Lansing High School's Stalinist policies. I can't call my battle completely pointless because I've created awareness about the cultural bolshevism prevalent in America's high schools.

As a dedicated conservative activist, I will continue to publish more issues and inform our nation about America's biggest threat: Liberal indoctrinators that create minions with their biased multicultural education and anti-male curriculum. If conservatives rise up, we can create a cultural backlash against the tide of liberalism corrupting America's youth.


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


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