Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Reading Lists, Required and Otherwise

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I had a sort of rocky start to the morning.  And that’s too bad, because it should have been a good one.

We had a storm come through overnight.  It put what looks to be about six inches on the ground and pretty much closed this county, with the schools all out and the plows coming through all morning.

It’s not really enough of a fall to constitute a perfect day.  For that I need about a foot and a half, because that stops all activity dead in its tracks and gives us what amounts to a local bank holiday. 

I like that kind of  thing a lot, because it means a Calm and Relaxed day, with nobody in a hurry and nobody expecting me to be in a hurry.

Still, this was enough to constitute a minor snow day for the schools, so I was happy when I saw it.

At that point I did something I keep reminding myself not to do.  The problem is that no  matter how often I remind myself to do it, there always comes a time when I can’t remember why I’m reminding myself not to do it, and then here I am.

Among the other things I have in my stack of CDs is one of the Brahms String Quintets with James Galway featured.  It is the only Brahms I have, because it was the first Brahms I ever bought, and the CD is flat awful.

Honestly, you should  think that Brahms would sound more like Mozart or Beethoven than like twentieth century atonal crap.  He was born in 1833 and died in 1897. 

Still, twentieth century atonal crap is what this CD sounds like, and I’ve never bought anything else by Brahms because of it.

So here we are.

Insead of calming me down and making me capable of reading and writing, I feel like I’ve been carbonated. 

When the CD ends–yes, yes, I insist on finishing those, too–I put on Mussorsky (sp?) and Pictures at an Exhibition.  That one has every right to sound like twentieth century atonal crap, but doesn’t.

Anyway, while I’ve been sitting around being annoyed by the Brahms, I’ve been thinking about something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

There’s a web site for this, and if you want to see it you can go here:


You’ve got to excuse me if I start to sound a little disorganized around here.

I wasn’t introduced to CCSS as itself.  Rather, I was given a precis of the English high school required reading list, and it was only after I’d looked around on Google for a while that I realized that what I had was not really just a list, but a comprehensive plan to teach approaches to literature (and math, and eventually history and “social studies”) than any particular pieces of fiction or poetry.

If you will forgive, for a moment, the seemingly irresistable need of the kinds of people who write these things to write in stiff-kneed professionalese, the standards are worth looking into, whether you like the reading list used to implement them or not.

For instance, one of the standards for grades 9 and 10 says:

>>>Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

And one of the standards for grades 11 and 12 says:

>>>Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

If schools actually teach this stuff, it has to be better than what we’ve got now. 

I like that this is a voluntary plan, not a top-down exercise controlled from the Department of Education.

I admit to being skeptical that schools will actually teach these things, or if they do, whether they will actually require students not in honors sections to learn them.

I am also more than a little uneasy with the skill-based approach.  I’m not sure you can really teach reading comprehension that way. 

I think that in the long run, a knowledge based approach is necessary in the early grades at least in order to end up being able to read well at all, and I can’t find any indicators that a knowledge-based approach is ever a part of the program.

Even  under the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” section for Grade 5 you get:

>>>Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Which is, again, a skills-based approach.

In a lot of ways, this does not bode well for the success of the program in the long run.

Still, these sound like better than anything we’ve got now except in places like Wilton, and they’d certainly be an improvement on what we have now.

I don’t see anything about parts or speech or basic grammar, but I may be looking in the wrong place.


It’s worth looking into the web site, and the idea.


Written by janeh

January 16th, 2013 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Reading Lists, Required and Otherwise'

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  1. Yes, it reminded me of the Army’s “Mission Essential Tasks List.” (3a: identify friendly from enemy armored vehicles 8 times in 10; 5b perform maintenance on the M16A2–that sort of thing.)
    I didn’t see much that related to extracting ideas from the literature and comparing them–but then I looked over the literature list, and decided there was no danger of a student picking up an unapproved idea. The fiction was VERY well chosen in that regard.
    I’m sure the graduates will make productive subjects.


    16 Jan 13 at 12:46 pm

  2. I had a quick and short look at the math curriculum. This comes from Grade 6

    Find the volume of a right rectangular prism with fractional edge lengths by packing it with unit cubes of the appropriate unit fraction edge lengths, and show that the volume is the same as would be found by multiplying the edge lengths of the prism. Apply the formulas V = l w h and V = b h to find volumes of right rectangular prisms with fractional edge lengths in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.

    I’m not even sure what they are talking about. It seems rather advanced for that grade and its not clear if they intend it to be thought experiments or experiments with blocks.

    As for knowledge based in teaching reading, I have been reading two alternate history novels which assume that Japan followed up the Pearl Harbor attack with a successful invasion and capture of the Hawaiian Islands. They would come across as very racist attacks on the Japanese unless the reader knew of the rape of Nanking, comfort women, the Bataan Death March and the Burma railroad among other things.


    16 Jan 13 at 6:21 pm

  3. What a fine collection of gobbledegook.

    Pardon my mathematical ignorance, but isn’t “right rectangular” tautological? And I would have thought that “in the context of” life, the universe and everything, mathematical problems _are_ real-world problems and often, if not always, precisely the same things.


    16 Jan 13 at 6:59 pm

  4. jd, anyone who reads ANY alternate history without a good background in the equivalent actual history will have serious problems, and maybe more with Turtledove than with most. I don’t usually read him, but the man does his homework. (Read The Man in the High Castle, and try to spot the change date. Dick does give it–once.)
    But it’s a real problem when art and history collide. Setting aside Shakespeare, think how many people and events are “known” from a film which got them completely wrong.


    17 Jan 13 at 10:02 am

  5. Robert, Turtledove did write a pair of books on Pearl Harbor. But I was also thinking of Robert Conroy who wrote “1942”.


    17 Jan 13 at 2:13 pm

  6. Ouch! Wrong again. And I thought I recognized those. What I get for not stopping with Ward Moore and H. Beam Piper.


    17 Jan 13 at 3:44 pm

  7. I don’t normally post links, but this one is worthwhile.

    On the RRL, it looked to me very like the gauntlet I ran in the 1960’s in Indiana, with the Four Horsemen of the Literary Apocalypse–Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald–as the summit of Literature, and no real change in politics or literary sensibility: just a thinning of everything pre-Faulkner–half the Shakespeare I was assigned, for instance–to make room for books largely chosen for the ethnicity of the authors. That said, three cheers for whoever tossed RED BADGE OF COURAGE and substituted KILLER ANGELS, and for the ditching of GREAT EXPECTATIONS and SILAS MARNER to be replaced with PRIDE & PREJUDICE and JANE EYRE.

    Now if they could just have used a work of real science fiction instead of Bradbury…


    19 Jan 13 at 8:59 am

  8. Well, I googled “right rectangular prism with fractional edge lengths” and found a rather irritating lesson on it.


    I think this would have been called a cubic rectangle when I was in school. By calling it a right rectangular prism, the student should understand the angles involved are all right angles and this is not a three-dimensional trapezoid of any kind.

    It appears the current thinking on teaching math is that the concepts need to make sense to the students first, rather than the old ‘memorize this formula’ strategy they used with my parents. My own education fell somewhere in between the two, so I recognize the strategy they’re using to present the problem, but I am not at all familiar with the current terminology.

    Richard and I have a friend who coaches the math team and teaches an honors math class in a high school here in Connecticut. He does not lecture. He presents real-world problems and coaxes his students to figure out how to go about solving them. If there is any lecturing going on, it’s learning the terminology for what they’re doing so they can communicate. His team does very well in competitions. I must admit I wish I had had at least one instructor like him when I was in school.


    19 Jan 13 at 10:07 pm

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