Tuesday, March 26, 2013

dumbing down literature

One of the main reasons  I became an English teacher was for my own love and passion of reading and writing. So let's just say the Common Core Standards do all in their power to squelch this passion in myself and others. Suddenly, a window of discovery to other worlds and views, a look back in time and into the future (literature) is  shut. A method of expression and wonderment (writing, especially creatively or in narrative form) is stopped.

But on to my point here; even with "regular", pre-Common Core, literature has been stripped, white-washed,  dumbed down, and made into a dull and confusing piece everyone wishes to avoid.

No longer do students read Grapes of Wrath or Antigone, but excerpts of it, not even written by the original author but re-written by some textbook-bribed "curriculum committee" or what have you.

I am to teach a unit on myths and legends, and I got excited about Greek mythology.  I looked into the textbook, labeled "universal access" (Often used to "scaffold" ie dumb things down for those who may need it such as those learning English or learning disabled....but often used for all students) and I was filled with dread. The myth of Theseus, a 112 page novel, was concentrated, summarized, and butchered into a 7 page story, leaving out the flowery classical language, ambiguities, descriptive references, and engaging tales.

I am to teach this stupid version and even I want to throw the "Universal Access" version into the garbage and say, "teeeeacher, why do we have to read this? It's sooo boooring. I don't understand what it is saying."

An engaging story within a story- Medea, the Golden Fleece, the Minataur, and other legend references circling around Theseus are whittled down into mere sentences or paragraphs, so that if you don't already know the tales, you are  left clueless, and how would you know these tales when you're not taught them? The moral and historical lessons are summarized and whitewashed even worse than in an history textbook, and the "mini novel" transitions so quickly, summarized so strangely, that anything of value or worth s deleted and all is left is a dull story that makes no sense.

To illustrate, I must include some excerpts from the textbook version. And remember, this is pre-Common Core, so it can only go downhill from here.

It can be imagined how Greece rang with praises of the young man who cleared the land of these banes to travelers. When he reached Athens, he was an acknowledged hero, and he was invited to a banquet by the King, who of course was unaware that Theseus was his son. In fact, he was afraid of the young man's great popularity, thinking he might win the people over to make him King, and he invited him with the idea of poisoning hm. The plan was not his, but Medea's, the heroine of the Quest of the Golden Fleece, who knew through er sorcery who Theseus was. She had fled Athens when she left Corinth in her winged car, and she had acquired great influence over Aegeus, which she did not want disturbed by the appearance of a son. But as she handed him the poisoned cup, Theseus, wishing to make himself known at once to his father, drew his sword. The King instantly recognized it and dashed the cup to the ground. Medea escaped, as she always did, and got safely away to Asia.

Perhaps just I alone am confused here. I think, if I were a student new to mythology, I would have no clue who Medea and this golden fleece thing was...how does it relate to what is happening here? Why should I care? Why does Medea always escape? Why does Medea want to poison Theseus? She knows him from sorcery but that means little. Why does the king listen to Medea? Why dd she flee Corinth and why does she have a winged car? And so many more questions abound. I'm left just a bit confused, as the story progresses so quickly without detail, passion, or "buy in". I think, who are these characters and why do I care?

A classic, engaging tale, a story full of moral lessons and cultural-historical context, is tossed away. Now it is just some brief story, a mandatory read, where we read, answer the questions, and move on. You cannot easily even create an engaging lesson with essential questions (discussions on betrayal, heroism, societal values etc) because there is nothing to draw from. Read and move on.

And soon we won't even have that.

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