How does learning about paternity testing help 6th graders become stronger readers?

A parent in the Baxter Community School District in Baxter, IA sent me scans of homework brought home by her 6th grader.  They were reading Advances in Genetics by Matt Doeden.  In literature class.


The parent expressed concern over the discussion on page 15 of the book.  Under the Historical Perspective section (see above) it says, “In the past, there was no way to be sure of who a child’s biological father was.  Rumors could never be proved or disproved.  Mothers who couldn’t prove who the fathers were.  They had no legal grounds to get child support.  Today a simple DNA test can match any child with any parent.”  It then brings up Thomas Jefferson.  “The most famous paternity case involves President Thomas Jefferson.  For centuries, there were rumors that Jefferson was the father of the children of his slave, Sally Hemmings….” It then goes on to state that DNA testing does confirm the father was from his family or perhaps the former President himself.

The parent said to Caffeinated Thoughts, “Maybe I’m just a prude about these topics but when it indicates ‘In the past, there was no way to be sure of who a child’s biological father was’ I just can’t help thinking how is this relevant to a 6th grader (are they all going to now wonder who their dad is) and I don’t understand how this is an issue unless you are not faithful in your marriage.  But, I do get that my values are not what are to be reflected in the real world today.”

How is this relevant to a 6th grader being able to read?  There is a time and place for the discussion of genetics and DNA testing and its applications, but a 6th grade literature class?  This is an example of how the Common Core State Standards that are part of the Iowa Core is shifting what is taking place in the classrooms.  The Common Core State Standards shifts the focus in reading to informational text as a way, advocates state, to prepare students for college and careers.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emeritus of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and member of the validation committee of the Common Core English Language Arts standards, points out that this emphasis on informational text is one of the fatal flaws of the standards:

…its arbitrary division of reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for “informational” text and 9 for “literature” at all grade levels from K to 12. Based on these numbers, school administrators have told English teachers to reduce literary study to less than 50% of reading instructional time. And their interpretation of this 50/50 division in ELA reading standards has not been contradicted by the chief architect of Common Core’s literature standards, now head of the College Board, who has managed to confuse everyone by insisting that literature remains the focus of the English class.

She wrote in an earlier piece for the Heritage Foundation:

Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?

Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).

In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.

From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.

This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training. This division of reading standards was clearly not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, because it makes English teachers responsible for something they have not been trained to teach and will not be trained to teach unless the entire undergraduate English major and preparatory programs in English education are changed.

Common Core’s damage to the English curriculum is already taking shape. Anecdotal reports from high school English teachers indicate that the amount of informational or nonfiction reading they are being told to do in their classroom is 50 percent or more of their reading instructional time—and that they will have time only for excerpts from novels, plays, or epic poems if they want students to read more than very short stories and poems.

(You can listen to our interview with Dr. Stotsky here.)

Dr. Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College goes further calling the architects of the Common Core “story killers” in his book The Story Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core he wrote:

More simply put, the unstated but nonetheless unmistakable intent of the Common Core is to erase any remnant of traditional learning in the English classes of our public schools.  As such, the architects of the Common Core are nothing short of story-killers.  They are deliberately killing off what is left of the great stories of Western literature.

(You can listen to our interview with Dr. Terrence Moore here.)

Parents and school officials can have a discussion on whether or not it is appropriate to discuss paternity tests in 6th grade, but I think we can all agree that discussion doesn’t belong in literature class.

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