In this issue of Forum—an occasional publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW)—twelve prominent authors reflect on a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The CFR study claims that “America’s educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security: threats to economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.” As a consequence, it proposes: 1) severe changes to the curriculum to emphasize “subjects vital to protecting national security;” 2) expanded support for alternative schools, whether charters or through voucher programs; and 3) a “‘national security audit’ to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results.” The CFR study may be downloaded here.
The CFR study raises fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of education, citizenship, individual personhood, and the character of the United States. The ALSCW, as an organization, takes no position on this report or on any other. But since we are a group of teachers, scholars, and writers dedicated to literary studies, our members take a lively interest in the debate about how (or whether) to reform education in the United States. The contributors to this issue of Forum represent divergent views, and are university professors (including faculty from Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Harvard, West Point, and Yale), scholars, and high school teachers from both public and private schools. The issue is edited by Lee Oser of the College of the Holy Cross, and by Rosanna Warren of the University of Chicago. Common themes do emerge. Our authors note the severely utilitarian view of education in the CFR report; the subordination of all cultural goals to the aims of national security; and controversial assumptions about human nature and about democracy in the United States.
Forum 5 sets the CFR report in a wider context of the history of educational reform in this country and should provoke further debate about these urgent questions. We hope you will help to publicize both the CFR report and the responses collected by the ALSCW. Now available as a PDF.
Issue 4.4 of Literary Matters has been released and is currently available on the Literary Matters page of our website. This issue includes a profile on our (relatively) new office manager Ben Mazer, a report on the 2011 Annual Conference, and much more. Click here to download it as a pdf.
The ALSCW’s newly released study strongly suggests that two factors- a fragmented English curriculum and a neglect of close reading- may explain why the reading skills of American high school students have shown little or no improvement in several decades despite substantial increases in funds for elementary and secondary education by federal and state governments.
The report, entitled Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, And 11: A National Survey analyzes the responses of more than four hundred representative public school teachers who were asked what works of literature they assign in standard and honors courses, and what approaches they use for teaching students how to understand imaginative literature and literary non-fiction.
Some of the study’s major findings include that the content of reading curriculum is no longer uniform in any consistent way, that the works teachers assign generally do not increase in difficulty from grade 9 to 11, and that teachers generally favor personal responses or historical contexts over close analytical readings of texts.
The ALSCW in turn recommends; that high schools revise their English curriculum to incorporate a progressively more challenging core of literary and non-literary texts, that English departments at colleges and universities emphasize the analytical study of literature espeically in the case of students planning to become secondary English teachers, and that the US Department of Education and state legislatures give priority to the funding of professional development programs that emphasize close, careful reading.
To read or download the complete, 36 page report, visit the ALSCW’s website at www.bu.edu/literary/publications/Forum4.pdf.
Reading levels are on the rise according to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts. Here is a brief excerpt from the Preface by NEA Chairman Dana Gioia:
Reading on the Rise, the National Endowment for the Arts’ new report, documents a significant turning point in recent American cultural history. For the first time in over a quarter-century, our survey shows that literary reading has risen among adult Americans. After decades of declining trends, there has been a decisive and unambiguous increase among virtually every group measured in this comprehensive national survey.