Saturday, January 10, 2009

High school and middle school literature selection

On the "One teacher's experience" post Anonymous 8:13 wrote:

Let's look at the 12th grade curriculum. Are you familiar with what seniors are reading right now? Do you think the book by Wideman deserves to be in a scholastic curriculum? Do you think Invisible Man needs to be a part of the curriculum? Does it make sense to continually push the racism card, whether it be books and stories detailing the slave days, of Civil Rights, etc? Is this doing more to widen the gap between races or to bring people together? Is there an agenda at work or just a bleeding heart approach? Hasn't every ethnic group suffered some sort of persecution in this country? Why are we not reading about it?Does it make sense that so many good writers whose messages transcend race and gender have been pushed aside in favor of being politically correct? Come on fixit, expand your horizons.
January 9, 2009 8:13 PM

Anonymous 10:33 said...

Anonymous 8:13, I have been suggesting to several parties for a few years now that our literature selections at all grade levels are too focused on African-American themes. I bring it up every year at PSCC meetings, and meetings of parent groups. I have told this to curriculum coaches,english teachers, principals and at least one director face-to-face. My opinion is that it does nothing to build better relationships between students in classrooms. Cover the material once, not again every year. I also asked direct questions about some of the middle grade novels selected. They are too dark in feeling. If you were not depressed before reading a few, you will be afterward. They have won awards, some, but the grade level is already a sensitive few years, why keep repeating the "sad" message? I think this is why a lot of kids abandon reading. They hated the books they "had" to read. I once suggested that teachers picked the books they wanted to use to teach the standards and then compare how those kids did on a PSSA with other kids. I bet the teacher who was given some authority over what she taught made better lessons from the material.

Back to the achievement gap issue. Our curriculum is now being written by PPS techers with help from some department at Pitt, right? Somebody is providing a starting point. Too much is being determined in response to the ruling based on the lawsuitfiled in the early 90s by the Advocates for African-American Education. The new civics program was a nice PR move, putting a focus on Pittsburgh in the big year's celebration, but will it help students be better citizens? If part of being a better citizen is being a more cooperative and responsible student?
January 10, 2009 10:33 AM

38 comments:

justaparent said...

Can anyone point out the "rigor and relevance" in the two 12th grade selections mentioned by anonymous?

PPSparent said...

Well, there is only one selection actually named -- can someone tell us which Wideman book it is? (I'm assuming it's one of the Pittsburgh ones.) Also, Invisible Man did win a National Book Award when it was published, obviously they found it to have "rigor and relevance."

To really have this discussion, we'd need to see all four years of required reading for mainstream/scholars/CAS English.

PPSparent said...

Wouldn't it be lovely if the curriculum outlines were available on the website?

Questioner said...

We can ask for them! Who would be the person to contact?

Anonymous said...

It's not just the senior curriculum which has been "amended", of course. It's odd, but I have always looked upon administrative selections of books like Wideman's "Brothers and Keepers" as more of an attempt to influence thinking--to push young minds in a certain direction--than to breed an inquisitive approach to learning. "Hamlet" is no longer in the senior curriculum, but this selection is. Why? Because of Pittsburgh connections? And "Invisible Man" can win a hundred awards, but to include it as a part of the curriculum is mind numbing. Junior English curriculum is just as confounding. In the same year, students are treated to Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"--a book that assaults the language in favor of colloquial jargon-- "The Color of Water"--a story about a white woman who bears 12 mixed race kids in inner city New York--and three works by August Wilson.

What is the agenda here? Spend a moment and think of the world's greatest authors....the writers who evoked deep thought about the human condition. Chances are good, they are absent in high school curriculum. Ask yourself why. What is the point? What is the agenda? Who is in charge and what are they trying to do?

Another Parent said...

Yes, curriculum is being written/amended by classroom teachers and then sent to the Pittsburgh Institute (Pitt) for final ivory tower censorship (revision) before it returns to the classroom teacher.
I have to question what curriculum writers are pushing forward sometimes. Who do they envision as the recipients of their curriculum fantasies, PSP students at Allderdice? Double-period students over at CAPA? Are they really keeping the mainstream English student over at Oliver or Peabody or Langley in mind? Somehow, I doubt it.

I agree with one of the original postings about book selection. Why does it have to be an either/or situation? Students are ram rodded with the African American plight continually--each year--over their 4 years in high school. Why? I am in agreement that the thoughts of Dr.King and perhaps a play or two by Wilson have their place, but I have to wonder why they are pushed every year.
If this is the philosophy, why not commentaries about the struggles of Italian immigrants, or German immigrants, or Irish Americans, or Hispanics?

Anonymous said...

I think some expert somewhere suggested the achievement gap could be closed quicker if kids were given materials they could relate to. This should be able to be proved by test scores, and class participation. Wouldn't it be great if kids could pick from a menu of literary selections and prove when his individual interests are met he can show it on tests and in his written work? I think the new buzzword is "accountable talk." I could be wrong about the term. How muh accountable talk is generated by Invisible Man? How about substituting THE KITE RUNNER?

Kathy Fine said...

I think that we all must be very careful to criticize the literature selection of the PPS for being too African American centered without actually seeing the entire list of required reading. PURE Reform will try to get the comprehensive list of reading requirements for the middle and high school years so that we can assess and discuss this knowledgeably.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, I have to question your stance about "being careful". One can associate such commentary as once again being "politically correct." And once again, perception becomes reality.
You've been treated to a number of selections in the senior and junior English curriculum. Are you familiar with the works in question? Be careful about what?
Junior English has the following books:
The Crucible-Arthur Miller
Their Eyes Were Watching God--Zora Neale Hurston
The Great Gatsby--F.Scott Fitzgerald
Fences/Ma Rainey's Black Bottom/Joe Turner--August Wilson
(3 seperate plays)
The Color of Water
Sorry, but I have to question the thinking within these selections.

The point is that one would think that we have come to a point in time when we as a nation can move forward together and celebrate our similarities rather than devolve into remembering our transgressions and thinking about our differences. Is such a methodology constructive? Perhaps in this regard, this is where we need to "be careful."

There are so many worthwhile authors whose works should be studied to assess the human condition, the ideas of human compassion and the need for knowledge, love, friendship, cooperation, et al.

I wish Pure Reform the best in assessing just what is important at this point in time. I was raised in a home that never allowed me to see color and implored me to judge people on their personal merits. It's shameful that too often, we are asked to see differences which pull us apart and breed alienation.

Thanks for your time. Your reply makes it clear that it's time to move on and find another district.

Questioner said...

Hey, don't let us drive you away- we're just parents!

Anonymous said...

I think Kathy's statement was to be careful about criticizing until we had complete information. As IB students, our kids don't follow the PPS reading selections of the rest of the district. So far this year, my junior has read The Cherry Orchard, A Doll's House and another Ibsen that I forget at the moment, and is currently reading Kafka's Metamorphosis.

Kathy Fine said...

Anonymous, I certainly did not mean to offend with my comment. I just meant that the blog posts that I was reading referred to only one or two selections from the PPS required reading and that I didn't think that we could make an informed judgment from that information. You might be entirely correct that the reading requirements are unbalanced as far as content. I would like to investigate this further.

Plus, I am one lowly parent with an opinion (way too many, some have told me.) No reason to abandon the district because of my musings.

Anyway, would love to have further dialogue with you about this.

PPSparent said...

Wow, most people are nicer than I am. ;-D

If that reading list and a discussion of our society both as it is and as it could be are offensive to you, then you may be right -- another district may be better for you. Not sure exactly where though.

What exactly do you have in mind that doesn't deal with dissension and differences? That only celebrates similarities? How does discussing things breed only discontent?

Are we talking Chicken Soup books or do you only dislike difficult subjects that deal with race or are written by black authors?

If you were truly "colorblind" how is it that you've chosen all books by black authors to disapprove of?

Personally I find Hemingway to be a huge waste of a high schooler's time and yes, my child has had to read Hemingway in the PPS. But, hey, I recognize that others disagree and that it may (or may not) have a place in the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

This truly is a worthwhile discussion. I forget that the PURE website was born from the Schenley buidling issue and has come to be concerned with a broader range of issues. There are differences in the literature selections based on IB, CAS, PSP, mainstream. Chances are when the Sci-Tech designers get done the literature may be top-heavy in biographies of scientists.

No matter where you kid falls, great care must be taken to avoid driving further wedges between races, classes, ethnicities, etc. This is the job of the curriculum writers and administrators. Perhaps everyone should read the post "one teacher's experience" on this blog.

I think we are at the saturation point with literature dealing with the African-American experience.

Anonymous said...

Let me chime in on this issue, as well. If you are strictly looking at the text selection as an IB or CAS parent, you need to walk a mile in the shoes of perhaps parents of PSP and mainstream students who are not at schools where intelligence equates to tolerance.
The 11th grade curriculum is--as the previous poster noted--pure overkill. And let me be frank, both white and black students seem to get tired of the overall message being put forth about white-black history. They get it already. They've understood since they were in elementary school. They want to move on.
That said, the slavery unit does not have an associated text and is pretty well done. They took out a good albeit written on a lower level book in Copper Sun, but the unit moves rather quickly.
After that though, plugging both MLK and Malcolm X into the transcendentalist unit while removing works like Walden is a bit suspect. Later on, you have a succession of books ranging from Their Eyes Were Watching God, to August Wilson's three plays, to The Color of Water which simply tend to keep pounding the idea that African Americans had it and have it hard. You know, I think the kids understand all of that. I think they get the point. But I think they resent the pounding.
I am not sure if the poster is a parent or teacher, but I can understand the feeling about overkill.
Hurston's book is full of slang and of references to the post-slavery south. Wilson's "Fences" speaks to a great many about the plight of the poor--especially in these times--but the other two plays are not as well written and again, tend to get be exercises in overkill.
Finally, Color of Water would likely be enjoyed by many young readers but given its placement here may be met with close minds.

I don't know how much thinking went into this curriculum. I don't know if there is an agenda behind it. I do know that students as a whole were not taken into account. I'm not real familiar with what is in the 9th and 10th grade curricula these days, but I do know that what someone said before about 12th grade is just as applicable--a continual pounding of the idea of white America holding black America down. Perhaps this is the way things are in urban education. There should simply be more balance.

Anonymous said...

PPSparent, I want to respond directly to some of the things you have put forward because during the course of debate, it seems there is always someone who goes the complete opposite direction from another's point in true knee-jerk fashion. I didn't the opinion that the anon writer had a problem with black authors nor did I get the feeling that he/she had a problem with issues. Instead, it would seem to me that the issue came down to fairness and an even handed approach. You want to think that the powers that be are exposing youngsters to a wide range of influences so as to let the student formulate his or her own opinion. At times like these, some wonder if forming the opinion FOR the student is more the thought of the day.
Within that list of books, two of the works are by white authors. One deals with a witch hunt and the other with money/power/lust/arrogance in 1920's America. The other books deal with the hardships of African Americans. Sorry, but you cast aspersions on the poster's sense of equity with regards to race when all it seems that he or she wants is an even keel.
I have to object to your comment.Uh, and I don't read anywhere where the poster simply wants to "celebrate similarities".
It's unfortunate that you have taken a worthwhile post out of context.
Incidentally, perhaps you ought to do a little deeper reading of some of Hemingway's classics. If his message is lost upon you, then truly, you are the one who should stay with the Chicken Soup books.

PPSparent said...

Anonymous 8:32 (are you sure you don't want a more personalized nickname?):

I'd be delighted to see the reading lists for all four grades and all varieties of classes (as I noted in my very first comment on this topic). Haven't seen that yet which certainly makes it harder to comment. Also, are we talking pre-Kaplan, Kaplan, or new teacher created curriculum? Are these books the same ones, new ones, some old and some new?


Regarding race from the post I was responding to (anonymous 4:30):

- a book that assaults the language in favor of colloquial jargon

So I assume that other users of colloquial jargon like Twain, Hardy, Dickens, Chaucer and Shakespeare are to be similarly avoided?

-I am in agreement that the thoughts of Dr.King and perhaps a play or two by Wilson have their place, but I have to wonder why they are pushed every year.

This doesn't sound very even-keeled to me. One local playwright and MLK in 4 years - that's it? What's the percentage of black students in these classes? Or does that only count if the white kids aren't reading white authors?

- "celebrate our similarities rather than devolve into remembering our transgressions and thinking about our differences."

That's where I got the part about celebrating similarities. I guess that I think of all of these books as being about the human condition, filtered through different experiences of it. Are we going to remove the Holocaust from history classes too?

I will certainly agree that any books or collections of books can be taught poorly or well, with or without an agenda attached. However, I'd also argue that most high school kids resent being told to read and discuss and are most resentful the more of an agenda they perceive. So, in some perverse way, we may be turning off grades full of kids from these books you don't like.

I certainly can't remember everything my kids have read so far, but a quick survey of them comes up with these high school books:

The Joy Luck Club (which I despise)
The Odyssey
House on Mango Street
The Wave
Julius Caesar
Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream (may have replaced JC)
Out of This Furnace
Native Son
Black Boy
Weep Not Child
Yellow Raft Blue Water
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Various Short Stories
Ibsen/Chekhov/Kafka

As several others have noted though, the Pure Reform group seems to want to be proactive and come up with suggestions -- so what books do you recommend, what would your ideal urban district reading lists look like? Personally, I'm all for a wide-ranging selection, but I also have no problem with one that has an "emphasis" which doesn't exclude works that have traditionally been excluded.

Teacher said...

It's always nice to wake up to a heaping helping of pretzel logic, parent. What most teachers and parents of students within comprehensive high schools simply want to see comes down to one word: balance. Running over the same ground each and every year to be viewed as politically correct is nice and makes for great P.R., but it breeds contempt within the unwashed masses. I think it is wonderful that students within the CAS program--something you are undoubtedly familiar with--can entertain great debate and discourse over the continual rendering of the struggles within one American ethnic group. Yet, before you make blanket pronouncements for an entire district or pretend to understand what others are thinking, you need to walk a mile in the shoes of others. Spend some time in a comprehensive classroom. Talk the teachers. Talk to the kids.

Balance, parent. I wouldn't want to see any ground continually reviewed on a yearly basis within literature class. Political correctness is not the task at hand. But to employ self serving logic that seeks to deride the dissenter by placing poor assumptions into the argument is folly.

Each year of study within ELA class should bring exposure to different areas and different themes, not a continual walk along warm, wet circles.

Incidentally, the fallacy that this curriculum is teacher-orchestrated is humorous. The Pittsburgh Institute--a wonderful group that dwells in the ivory tower and is completely out of touch with the idea of urban education--calls the shots, no matter what public pronouncements are made.

justaparent said...

Teacher understands this issue best of all. I can go back further to illustrate the concerns some parents have about the repetition of the same theme year after year. Elementary kids heard the Rosa Parks story or discussed the story at least in two years, possibly 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. It has been a while but I do remember asking my son if he knew the story of George Washington Carver when he was in one of those grades. He did not. I have heard people say African-American kids are more likely to participate in class discussions if they feel passionate about the subject matter. They certainly are justified to feel passionate about the civil rights movement, most caucasian people do too. Do they carry that passion to the halls after a particularly disturbing lesson about oppression? We are dealing with kids here. Kids don't always have the maturity to think before they act.

I am only a parent. Why don't the curriculum writers or "approvers" at the Institute go in to classrooms and try out what they have designed? Could it be because they don't have classroom control techniques incorporated into the plan? If a teacher gets a script on how to teach a lesson is the behavior of the students "written into" the plan? For example, if data has shown a teacher can get 5 minutes into a period before he has to stop and correct behavior, is the script written to change course 5 minutes into the period?

All posters have to remember where we come from in terms of discussing our opinions. Where our kids are in the system. I do know a bit about CAS and PSP, almost nothing about IB or magnet programs and more about special education than probably most who post here.

PPSparent said...

Teacher --

Way to respond to substance!

Questions I still have (and yes, I'm repeating myself):

The full lists for all four years.

Are we talking pre-Kaplan, Kaplan, or new teacher created curriculum? Are these books the same ones, new ones, some old and some new?
(I do talk to teachers who are working on re-doing the curriculum, though I'll admit that English is one area that I haven't heard about).

What's the percentage of black students in these classes? Or does that only count if the white kids aren't reading white authors?

What books do you recommend, what would your ideal urban district reading lists look like?

"Each year of study within ELA class should bring exposure to different areas and different themes, not a continual walk along warm, wet circles"

Have at it -- go ahead, what themes, teacher? which different areas? Does this mean that my out-of-state suburban high school was wrong in reading Shakespeare year after year? Trodding that ancient ground over and over again?

Please, feel free to make your own lists or suggestions. I don't think anyone here has ever argued that the PPS need no change. We do seem to disagree on what some of the problems are though.

PPSparent said...

justaparent --

I agree that oftentimes scripted curriculum fails on a variety of levels. It's most useful for the worst teachers, honestly. It can at least bring them up to (or near) a minimum standard, but that's about it and you lose the creativity and knowledge of the best teachers when you confine them to a script.

However, I still can't help but feel that you've mingled two different problems together. I don't know of any great literature that isn't about struggle, whether it's internal or societal. I don't think that "tough" stories make middle school kids morose, I think that middle school kids create a market for books that are about those topics. (that was from another post, not sure whose). If they didn't read them, they wouldn't be selling them.

There are many themes that come up over and over -- say Thanksgiving -- year after year. I don't see that learning about Rosa Parks even every year is a bad thing. Many kids need several repetitions of a topic before it takes hold. That may be the problem with George Washington Carver, for instance, that a couple of kids did a report on him while others chose someone else. I'll see your GWC though and raise you a Charles Drew. But if my kids came out of elementary school knowing that sometimes you have to break bad rules, in the politest way possible, I don't have a problem with that. If they came out knowing that one person can have an impact, again, bring it on.

I can't help but see analogies to other issues throughout history. Do we not teach about Stalin and Hitler? Should they only be mentioned once, so that kids don't leave the classrooms feeling bad when they find out that these themes resonate throughout history and literature?

Now, if these were the only topics, sure (and again, I really can't make a judgment until I see all the reading lists), but another poster managed to throw out The Crucible and The Great Gatsby as part of this "agenda" as well. So, again, I'd love to see the books that you'd like to be added.

Anonymous said...

"What's the percentage of black students in these classes? Or does that only count if the white kids aren't reading white authors?"

This speaks volumes as to what you are all about, PPSparent. Shameful. Is winning an argument on the internet this important to you?

Annette Werner said...

My son, Marc Werner, actually wrote an essay on this very issue of recurring topics in his CAS/IB literature classes. The essay (below) was published in the Schenley newspaper, spring 2007.

Physiology and the English Curriculum


Physiology tells us that after an organism is exposed to the same stimulus repeatedly, it becomes accustomed to the stimulus and eventually bored with it. For example, ever switch shampoo brands and notice the fresh scent throughout your day? The scent is especially apparent because you had become accustomed to your old shampoo and the new shampoo caught your brain off guard. This is a tendency not accounted for in the current CAS and IB curricula. In my years at Schenley HS I have taken freshman and sophomore CAS English and junior IB English and am currently taking senior IB English. This courseload may lead you to presume that I have been instructed to read a large and diverse selection of books, essays, and other writings on a wide range of subjects. However, I am writing to tell you that this presumption could not be further from the truth.

I have two major objections to the current English curriculum: first, it does not vary enough in the subject and themes featured in its literature, and second, it does not vary enough in the style and type of writing in its literature. When asked his opinion on the English curriculum, CAS and IB student DELETED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT responded, “I feel like we have read the same genre of books every year in my English classes; we haven’t read any nonfiction books. It seems as though I could just rephrase my past essays and submit them again this year.” As a lover of literature and the English language, I could not empathize with Justin more; an overwhelming majority of the literature that we read in English class has consisted of novels of social commentary. Ironically, the systematic and repetitive way that we study these novels blunts their impact. The novels were originally successful because they raised issues that had rarely been written about before and caught readers off guard. However, when we have been reading about a specific social issue for three years it is difficult to recreate the shock that readers of the time experienced. For example, after hearing about women who are trapped by their husbands in A House on Mango Street, then analyzing a woman who is subjugated by her husband in A Doll’s House, then evaluating a woman who is forced to live in the shadow of her oppressive husband in Ghosts, then discussing the negative effects of three women’s relationships with men in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, forgive me if I am less moved than expected when I read about a woman and her relationships with abusive men in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Furthermore, it is hard to determine what educational purpose analyzing the same type of novel in the same ways serves. While each novel may tackle an issue in a slightly different way or from a slightly different perspective, the books are so similar that their benefit is negligible compared to the benefit a more diverse curriculum would bring.

The English curriculum is limited not only in topic but also in type. With the exception of a couple of excerpts from The Republic and Leviathan, I cannot recall reading anything but fictional novels or plays in English class. Although novels and plays have their merits, students must be exposed to wide selection of writing genres. Many students complain about trouble with the SAT writing section, which requires students to write a short persuasive essay. Students from Schenley and other schools that use this curriculum are likely to struggle with the writing section because they are not exposed to persuasive essays or articles. Writers become better writers by reading what other great writers of the genre have written. This curriculum may serve to produce excellent playwrights and novelists, but I doubt that this is truly the aim of our English classes.

The curriculum could be easily fixed. For example, instead of reading a fourth or fifth novel on the subjugation of women we could read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft or Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens by Marie-Olympes de Gouges, two works written in moving prose that together started the feminist movement. Instead of reading a fourth or fifth novel on the suppression of African-Americans, we could read Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. or The Ballot or the Bullet by Malcolm X, two widely successful pieces of writing that helped shape race relations in America. Some may suggest that these writings belong in a history class; however, in a history class students would not analyze the language or tone that the authors use to convey their points. Students should be exposed to articles, essays, nonfiction texts, as well as novels and plays.

Finally, the English curriculum should foster a love of the English language in the students it is designed to teach. Although a few students may be more than happy to read novel of social commentary after novel of social commentary, a diverse class requires a diverse curriculum. At the very least, I know that I will loose it if we read an eighth book about arranged marriage. Because different students will be predisposed to different types of literature on different topics, to instill an appreciation and understanding of the English language a variety of literature must be used. Just as a teacher varies his or her method of teaching from lecturing to assigning papers to holding in class discussions and debates to showing videos and using visual aids, the curriculum should vary the literary works that it uses.

justaparent said...

Now that's what I am talking about!! Kids in school and those who graduated recently should be the conultants on fixing all that is wrong. I am not just speaking about CAS/IB students but the mainstream student who actually completed all the work and read all the literature. He might be able to provide some clue to get more kids to try a little harder. Thanks, Marc.

PPSparent said...

Anonymous at 10:35:

My asking about racial balances in classrooms in a discussion started by people saying there were too many black authors represented in those same classrooms is shameful? Do tell. I thought we were talking about, you know, "balance." (Also, I was quoting myself from an earlier post, if you want to see the context.)

Still waiting on substance:

Post what you consider a good reading list.

Make comments on the reading list I posted -- is it balanced enough? What is it missing or would you want removed? What would you think is or isn't appropriate for a general classroom from that list? (noting that it's not a complete list, just what we could remember off-hand, also add in The Crucible and The Old Man and the Sea).

Explain why differences are seen as driving a wedge rather than opening a discussion (to me, that's about the teaching not about the literature).

Comment on the person who suggested letting kids choose off a menu. (I think that might be s good idea, with choices related to some of the themes that have been studied. It does make it harder to have discussions or in-depth analysis when everyone is reading something different, so it might only be used twice a year?)

Or not.

I'm trying to have a discussion, sorry if you feel I'm just "winning an argument."

PPSparent said...

Yay! Substance!

However, I'm not sure that these are problems with the books chosen as much as with the way they are taught.

To be honest? I graduated from HS a loooong time ago, with a very traditional curriculum. We had the exact same format of complaints then. We hated that our teachers seemed to know what the symbolism was and that we weren't allowed to make up our own interpretations. We thought these books were dull, or too convoluted or that the problems were repetitive. We hated most of what we read, too (I referred to this above as well -- that being told to read something and then discuss its meaning seems to create, well, not good feelings amonst teenagers).

I recently reread Ethan Frome, only because I hated it so much when we read it during HS. Turns out that...I actually liked it this time, found it a bit of a page-turner. Not sure if I'll give Jude the Obscure another go, maybe time and age will have mellowed me on that one too.

The point about non-fiction is interesting -- that's truly not done anywhere, that I know of, and I think it's a great idea. Even in college literature classes, criticism and theory would be the only non-fiction that's usually addressed.

However, I would argue that the curriculum doesn't seem to have harmed his critical thinking or writing skills. ;-D

annette werner said...

It was the whole Schenley experience, not just CAS and/or IB, that helped develop his thinking and writing skills, as well as a sense of perspective.

Which is once again why so many have fought so hard for Schenley.

PPSparent said...

I certainly wouldn't disagree that it's the whole experience for IB that's worthwhile. Also, those types of connections could and should be made in any curriculum.

I'm just not sure what books aren't about the kinds of struggles that are mentioned -- race relations, religious differences, war, male-female power differences, murder... The non-fiction mentioned also deals with those topics. There's very little written that doesn't deal with the hard issues of humanity.

Now, how discussions and assignments are handled can be very different. Obviously, one can come at a from different viewpoints -- how were these characters wronged vs. what strengths did these characters employ to make the best of their situation, etc.

I've remembered three more things they've read: Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Here's one reading list I found online:
http://www.phschool.com/curriculum_support/reading_list/high_school.html

PPSparent said...

Can't resist adding a few more lists:

Supposedly a recommended reading list for NY State:

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/5818/booklists.html

Here's one in case you want to take on the most well-prepared homeschooling education you can likely find in any one place:

http://www.welltrainedmind.com/greatbooks.html

and a compilation of summer reading lists for "rising seniors" (page 5 has non-fiction):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27487-2004Sep16.html

and now, back offline!

justaparent said...

Just a question for the many posters here who seem to have more in-depth knowledge on PPS literature selections. Is there any novel or short story covered dealing with interracial marriage?

It seems a more relevant topic for our times and less discussed.

Old Timer said...

"It was the whole Schenley experience, not just CAS and/or IB, that helped develop his thinking and writing skills, as well as a sense of perspective."

The quest for knowledge is a funny endeavor. When one feels that such a quest is applauded and appreciated, he feels empowered to learn more, to analyze, to discuss and to study. When one feels that he is in an environment that shares a vision as to what academia is all about--from administrators to teachers, from students to their parents and the community at large, he embraces some sense of validation where academic growth is concerned.
In this regard, Ms.Werner and her son describe quite nicely what Schenley is all about.

The caveat to this discussion is akin to the old comparison of apples and oranges. Those who are lauding curricula apparently can only envision it via what comes out of Schenley. They are unaware of what is transpiring at Oliver, or Westinghouse, or Carrick, or Peabody, or Langley, where apathy, ignorance or lack of ability are much more the norm. Someone above said that "perception is reality". How true. There is no doubt that the mature, intellectual reader can embrace and discuss any novel which has been listed here and understand its role in a given society while not taking any of the readings as a personal affront, or personal charge.

Conversely, there is little doubt that the apathetic, un-intellectual reader who cannot rise above pettiness around him will look upon various books listed here as the "same old song and dance" or "continual preaching."

I can only thank Ms.Werner and her son for posting what amounts to an affirmation as to the strength of instruction at Schenley. And I can only thank her for the recognition that this is simply not the norm at other schools.

I agree wholeheartedly that teacher input must also be a part of the equation and yet, the curriculum being handed down now is in essence a scripted, canned plan of how to run each class with less and less individualism. It would appear that the role of the teacher is valued less and less by those who are devising curricula, whether it is Kaplan or the Pittsburgh Institute.

Old Timer said...

Justaparent, The Color Of Water details the struggles of a white woman who was married to two black men and raised twelve mixed race children in poverty. All 12 got their college degrees and rose above the hatred and ostracizing of their mother by both races.
A winner.

PPSparent said...

I'd agree with Old Timer that the success or failure of a curriculum has a lot more to do with the culture of a school and how well the teachers buy into that culture. If you've got the administration and the teachers, the students and parents usually follow.

When the the Spartans Classics program at Schenley was funded/supported, they were able to get more kids schoolwide to buy in with results following.

Disaffected kids aren't caused by (nor solved by) a reading list.

Most anything can be taught well or poorly. Heck, the Twilight series could be taught in schools and just having to think about, discuss and analyze the gender roles and the males into monsters themes could *totally* ruin the experience!,

Old Timer said...

Well, the culture of the school is one thing but at some point in time, failing schools need to have the reasons for failure examined. From my experience, the failure doesn't lie with the best efforts of the teachers but with the apathy of parents and their children. I'm at a loss to understand how teachers can buy into such a culture and hope to change things for the better. I am at a loss to understand how an administration can look at such a culture and placate it with a 50% grading policy which appeases such apathy and can only be termed pure lunacy.
In this way, you are correct. Teachers ARE buying into the culture at those types of schools--with guns to their heads.

PPS has some achieving schools and the reason is clear---the parents. Schenley is one, of course. CAPA is one. A large portion of Allderdice is one, and a segment of Brashear is one. I'm not sure that teachers buying into the culture of such schools is a difficult endeavor. But what about the culture at Oliver? How about Westinghouse, or Peabody? Just how do you turn things around?

Building a common sense curriculum is common sense, but you don't farm the work your teacher/writers are doing to other entities for oversight. Does anyone know the territory of what IS a Pittsburgh Public School better than a teacher? Certainly, no individual in the ivory tower at the Pittsburgh institute does, no matter how many "learning walks" he or she may embark upon.

A consortium of teachers comprised of each school could write good curriculum and to pay for it, a goodly number of do-nothings at Bellefield Avenue could go back into the classroom.

Only when teachers can hash out a reasonable, real-world curriculum/approach for each type of PPS student--from IB on down--will the schools make progress. Having a corporate wonk at the top of district--a man who could never find his way around a public school--and who surrounds himself with others who simply don't know what is going on in the schools---is simple idiocy.

Anonymous said...

Most people you ask don't realize that the superintendent has such little actual classroom/ inschool experience. They assume that the Broad training is like going back to get an MBA, complete with daily courses, long term assignements, work experience, etc.

Anonymous said...

If you go into the Fox Chapel Barnes and Noble bookstore during the summer, you'll see Fox Chapel High School's and Shadyside Academy's summer reading list posted. Do we have such a list in our school system? Also, you all are forgetting that a majority of our PPS students do not read at their grade level. Many high school students read even as low as a 3rd grade level. You're discussing book titles, and many students can't read yet comprehend. Let us incorporate basic reading.

kathy fine said...

Below is the reading list for CAS and mainstream grades 9 and 10. I will post CAS/IB/Mainstream grades 11 and 12 soon.

CAS English 1

Perrine’s Sound and Sense, 12th Edition

Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing
Deirdre Mullane, ed.

Summer Reading:

The Wave by Morton Rhue

House on Mango Streetby Sandra Cisneros

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

“The Furnished Room” by O. Henry

“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter

“Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

The Odyssey by Homer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

CAS English 2

“A Separate Peace” by John Knowles

Perrine’s Sound and Sense, 12th Edition

Summer Reading:

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Perrine’s Sound and Sound and Sense

Romeo and Juliet, dir. Baz Luhrman

Romeo and Juliet, dir. Franco Zeffirelli

West Side Story, dir. Jerome Robbins

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Oedipus The King by Sophocles

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Richard III by William Shakespeare

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Miser by Moliere

Night by Elie Wiesel

Marty by Paddy Chayefsky

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Mainstream English 1

Various Short Story Selections from The Language of Literature:
“Harrison Bergeron”
“No Witchcraft For Sale”
“Initiation”
Excerpt from “Montgomery Bus Boycott”
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
“Exile” by Julia Alvarez
In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Selected Poetry from The Language of Literature
Black Boy
Nectar in a Sieve
A Separate Peace
The Chocolate War
The Secret Life of Bees
The Brave

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


Mainstream English 2

“Monster” by Walter Dean Myers
“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell
“Night” by Elie Wiesel
Selected poems from The Language of Literature
“The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
“On Being Seventeen Bright-and Unable to Read” by David Raymond
“The First Appendectomy” by William Nolen
“Brothers are the Same” by Beryl Markham

“Marigolds” by Eugenia Collier

“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Glory and Hope” by Nelson Mandela

Schennley speeches:

“Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth

“Remarks to the Convocation of the Church of God in Christ” by William J. Clinton

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Anonymous said...

Reading this is great. I have few comments.

---The current curriculum is created by teachers. However, keep that idea loose. What actually happens is that the teachers are told what they have to do and they do it. There is no creativity allowed. They are told what books they must use, how long it should take to cover that books, etc. So many curriculum writers/teachers have quit because of the unreasonable demands and the idiocrasy of it all.

---That being said, I understand that CAS and IB are wonderful. They have wonderful selections. Most importantly, they don't follow the cookie cutter curriculum that is given to the rest of the students. They aren't taught in classes of 30 students who are far below their expected skill level. The books chosen might invoke wonderful conversation with who have always been taught in that CAS structure and environment, away from distraction, non-stop profanity, etc., but not the majority of the student population.

And before you go criticizing the teachers' classroom management skills, go sub for a day in a mainstream classroom.

---Anyone else wonder why parents are unable to view the curriculum? Maybe because it's garbage, and any person off the PAT bus can come in and follow the script.

---While I applaud your efforts, nothing will ever come of it. Not until half of the parents of our students march on Bellefield will anything happen. I'm glad that you are all concerned, but you're the only ones. And believe me, you are in the minority.

I hope that you get your group together and campaign for real change that can come from a strong parent voice. And good luck contacting parents across the district. Our teachers can't get a hold of the parents through the mail or phone or email. When "Jimmy" tells the teacher to go F*#! herself, Ms. Smith calls home only to get a "This Cricket number has been disconnected." So, Ms. Smith tries to call the other three numbers she has for an adult, any adult, who is in charge of this child. Still, no working number. Then, Ms. Smith tries to write home, only to have the letter returned with a wrong address.

But guess what happens when the parent finds out "Jimmy" failed? "I never heard about this!"

Although, we shouldn't have to worry about this anymore with the 50% rule.

So, when you get through to half the parents, mostly those of the mainstream teachers, let the school know. I'm sure "Jimmy's" teachers would love to talk to the guardian.