by Kevin Ritter
Today in our schools there is a movement gaining traction that seeks to limit the reading of classical literature at the expense of what are being called “informational texts.” The movement, called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), is based in part upon the fallacious idea that because high school seniors tend to read more non-fiction “informational texts” than literature, this must be the best preparation for college and career.
In the realm of logic, not always the “home field” of progressive educationists, this sort of reasoning is commonly known as the “Bandwagon Fallacy.” In the world outside Academia this erroneous belief is readily quashed by doting mothers intoning, “Just because the other kids are doing it, doesn’t mean you have to do it.” Nevertheless, inside the Academy, the Bandwagon Fallacy stands for evidence, and whole theories of education are sometimes built upon it.
The fact that more and more incoming college students require remedial English Language Arts (ELA) training is evidence of the fact that we have a problem. I do not doubt that Common Core began as a well-intentioned effort to address this problem, but like so many things touched by the bureaucratic hand of government it has morphed into a many-tentacled Leviathan that no longer serves its original purpose.
If we wish to better prepare students for college (not the only theory on the purpose of education, by the way), then we cannot base their preparation on the very thing that has caused their state of unpreparedness, i.e. failure to study great literature. One of the greatest minds of the 18th century, Edmund Burke, wrote extensively on this subject urging the reading of literature for young people because it awakens what he called the Moral Imagination.
According to Burke, Moral Imagination was the possession of great classical minds such as Virgil, Plato, and Dante. It is the force by which the wisdom of the ages, especially ideas regarding Beauty and Truth, is passed on from generation to generation. It is the recognition that despite the achievements of the current generation, those achievements would have been impossible without the contributions of those who came before us. Devoid of this understanding provided by great literature we are unprepared for life much less college.
The creators of the Common Core Standards began with an admirable goal in seeking to improve the education of our young people. However, they began from a flawed premise and as a result their effort can only serve to further extend the intellectual poverty and reinforce the cultural rootlessness already plaguing our schools.