Dear Common Core Standards Validation Committee,
I am writing to you to discuss the efficiency of the implementation of standards for the AP Literature exam. After reading Common Core State Standards ELA-Literacy 11-12.1-11-12.10, I actually do not have an issue with the standards themselves. I believe that the standards are fair in what they ask 11th and 12th grade English Literature students to complete in their coursework. The standards ask students to cite texts as evidence for making inferences, determine themes, analyze setting, analyze the language used, and evaluating multiple interpretations of story. These are all very important standards that require students demonstrate their comprehension of the text by analyzing and evaluating the text closely. Students will not be able to complete these standards thoroughly without closely reading the text and therefore are important in challenging students to read between the lines.
However, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL. 11-12.7 and 11- 12.9 are harder for me to accept because they require that students use texts from Shakespeare and other 18th-20th Century American authors. While it does not specify particular works, it does say “foundational works” of American literature. My problem with this is that students are being forced to study these works in order to achieve this standard and ultimately pass the 11th and 12th grade. These two standards are also significantly represented on the AP English Literature test. The AP test requires that you read and understand “foundational” texts from this time period. This is an issue for me because when you force anyone to read specific works, you are letting those works speak for others. I recently read a piece by Alcoff in a Chapman University course. Alcoff warns, “the practice of speaking for others is often born of a desire for mastery, to privilege oneself as the one who more correctly understands the truth about another’s situation”. Therefore, by putting a particular genre, time period, and author restriction on students, Common Core is enabling these works and authors speak for others during their contemporary times. This is an issue because it leaves out the other important voices necessary to hear multiple perspectives and the entire story of the time.
The problem with these restrictions in the Common Core State Standards and AP reading lists is that the majority of these authors were white males of the middle or upper class. Reading primarily the rich white male perspective will not give students an accurate portrayal of the time period because it leaves out listening to the voices of others from those times. Based on my experience with the books on the suggested reading lists, there is not sufficient representation of underrepresented identities. One example I can think of is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This is part of the suggested reading lists and I read this book in high school. I remember reading the play and my teacher made every group act out a scene from the play. While I thought is was an interesting way to do something different in English class, most of the females had to play male roles. Even though I was being challenged to think about the story so that I could act out part of it, this did not change the fact that I was not able to relate to the story at all. However, I do remember loving Frankenstein because the story was so fascinating, but also because a female wrote it. My teacher discussed how Mary Shelly wrote this intriguing story after having a dream about it. Learning this sparked my interest and makes me see that I could also write a story and be successful like Shelly.
I am an Integrated Educational Studies major and I have taken many classes that have emphasized students reading literature they are interested in and can relate to. I was able to enjoy Frankenstein because I found something that I was able to relate to. As educators, it is important that you help students find and read stories that are meaningful to them. That is my problem with having “foundational texts”. What if these foundational texts have no meaning to students and do not relate to their lives at all? I also recently read a piece by Richter called “What We Read”. I agree with Richter’s assertion, “The public debates about the canon and the curriculum were more overtly based on political issues that arise from our cultural preoccupations with race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation and on the feeling that literary excellence should not be limited to dead white European males” (p. 131). When we force our students to only read the perspective of dead white males, we are leaving out the important voices of the other people of different backgrounds, who have different stories to tell. If we encourage students to read a book that truly sounds interesting to them, I think the educational system would be in a much better place. Students will relate to their stories and be more likely to read, rising literacy rates. Additionally, if we encourage students to read multicultural literature, they will get more accurate portrayals of different cultures from people speaking for themselves.
In the future, I think the term foundational in standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL. 11-12.7 and 11- 12.9 should be interpreted as “a work that represents a population, voice, or perspective from the time period”. Foundational should not be synonymous with the white male authors and should instead include the perspective of the invisible, or underrepresented voices in literature.
A Concerned Future Educator