The good news is that today’s reading lists are more culturally diverse, speaking to a diverse student population. That’s great. Students of Hispanic background will surely find Cisneros speaks to their experience; the same for Toni Morrison and African-Americans. I hasten to add, though, that students of all backgrounds should find these works interesting. If some are exposed to very different cultural experiences, so much the better. One of the great values of literature is that it takes us into other worlds–worlds not our own.
What’s not great is that the “grade level” of the lists has been watered down. Not a little. A lot.
There is no reason why reading lists cannot be both inclusive culturally and rigorous intellectually. To think they cannot be is actually a silent form of patronizing prejudice.
♦ Less-challenging readings are correlated with lower reading and writing abilities in the upper grades.
Over the past 25 years, in particular, 12th grade reading scores have fallen badly.
As we always say: correlation ≠ causation.
Although the causal relationship between declining reading scores and less challenging readings is unproven, the correlation is suggestive and should be studied more carefully. After all, it is easy enough to make the readings more challenging and to devise random experiments to test the relationship. Why not look harder, do some experiments and see?
See the details in The Urban Institute’s study, “Varsity Blues: Are High School Students Being Left Behind?” by Kristin Blagg and Matthew Chingos. The chart below is from their study.
Hat tip to
◊ Annie Holmquist
◊ Kristin Blagg and
◊ Matthew Chingos for their work.