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I completely agree with Claire Needell Hollander here. I admit that I preferred essay tests throughout my school years because I was so much better at them, but I honestly never have understood why we use multiple choice testing at all. Where is the learning value in being a good guesser?
What really got to me in this article though, was her discussion of “cultural capital.”
I MAY not be able to prove that my literature class makes a difference in my students’ test results, but there is a positive correlation between how much time students spend reading and higher scores. The problem is that low-income students, who begin school with a less-developed vocabulary and are less able to comprehend complex sentences than their more privileged peers, are also less likely to read at home. Many will read only during class time, with a teacher supporting their effort. But those are the same students who are more likely to lose out on literary reading in class in favor of extra test prep. By “using data to inform instruction,” as the Department of Education insists we do, we are sorting lower-achieving students into classes that provide less cultural capital than their already more successful peers receive in their more literary classes and depriving students who viscerally understand the violence and despair in Steinbeck’s novels of the opportunity to read them.
It is ironic, then, that English Language Arts exams are designed for “cultural neutrality.” This is supposed to give students a level playing field on the exams, but what it does is bleed our English classes dry. We are trying to teach students to read increasingly complex texts, but they are complex only on the sentence level — not because the ideas they present are complex, not because they are symbolic, allusive or ambiguous…
FRANZ KAFKA wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.” I once shared this quotation with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.
Well now, if English Language Arts exams are designed for “cultural neutrality” that probably leaves out Managing with Aloha!I wrote an emotional book, and I am proud that I did so.
She makes an awfully big assumption here about “more privileged peers” though: Most of the people “of privilege” I know haven’t read all the books on the reading list she mentions —- including me!
Along with “Of Mice and Men,” my groups read: “Sounder,” “The Red Pony,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About “The Red Pony,” one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read “The Grapes of Wrath” and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.
And yet I do not know how to measure those results.
This also recalled the Maria Popova interview I read earlier this week. When she said,
Because I didn’t grow up in the U.S. and only moved here for college, I’ve always felt like I have this vast literary debt.
I felt like I was physically shrinking an inch or two, knowing of the vast literary debt I can still pay as well, especially when so many of the classics are offered on Kindle now, and are absolutely free.