Sunday, January 6, 2013

Uncommonly good

I don’t spend as much time browsing in bookstores as I used to, but I do look forward to the terrific used book sale held by the Shelter House here every year, with seemingly endless quantities of books. As the shelves get depleted, volunteers bring out more books to fill the spaces. The fiction is broken up by genre, and the non-fiction by topic. I love the book sale, but buying books, even when they’re cheap, is always such a gamble: just knowing the genre or topic is such a poor indicator of whether a book is worth reading. Every year, I think to myself: If only they divided them up by “Really Well-Written Books” and “All Others.” I’d be interested in just about anything in the first category, regardless of what it was about.

When I read about how the Common Core standards are leading textbook publishers (and therefore schools) to enforce specific ratios of non-fiction to fiction and poetry (to the disadvantage of the latter two, apparently), I have pretty much the same reaction. Not only does mandating a ratio seems patently silly, but that particular taxonomy doesn’t at all reflect what people who love to read actually value about reading. Something tells me I’d hate to see how the assigned readings in school break down between Really Well-Written Books and All Others.


Shannon Severance said...

In some fields, for some topics, the best* sources are poorly written, sometimes extremely poorly.

* Where the source may be the best because it is the most accurate, most comprehensive, and or the only source on the topic.

I know I've done reading where of material that was beneficial to me but the writing just drove me nuts. Not all reading is driven from love of reading, but from necessity. That does not excuse schools when they create artificial necessity.

Chris said...

Shannon -- That's both unfortunate and true. My concern is that what's getting assigned (because it's what's included in the textbooks that are designed to closely track the Common Core) is neither particularly well written nor particularly important or beneficial.

Shannon Severance said...

Rereading what I wrote, I think I would put it a bit differently.

I love reading, I love the written word. I'm not particularly good at turning out good prose, but I get by on the writing side. And reading a really well written book is a delight. But I have mostly prioritized my reading around particular subjects of interest to me. Subjects I love, with the top subject being computers, programming, and human aspects of creating software because that combines a very strong interest and relates to my career. Seeking out the best books in that field has lead to reading some really bad writing.


Chris, I have not been following Common Core closely. I'm too much of a cynic to think anything good, let alone wonderful, would come from it. [1] We, as a people, do not have the wisdom and knowledge to build reasonable comprehensive educational standards at the national level. There is far too much need to continue to work towards what works for each community and get that humming among a diverse set of communities. And I'm politically[2] opposed to such standardization even if we did have the knowledge and wisdom.

[1] A great deal of my cynicism derives from deep wounds inflicted by teachers and administrators that still haven't healed. And everything I hear makes it sounds like school is a worse place to be imprisoned than it was when I went to school. (High School class of '90)

[2] I lean small ell libertarian.