The Common Core Standards that now dictate the so-called “standards” and therefore the testing and therefore the curriculum (despite claims to the contrary) of forty-five state school systems in the land have dressed themselves up nicely. They have donned this season’s popular costume of “college and career readiness” in a “twenty-first-century global economy.” It seems to be the only one anyone in either public office or the public schools is wearing this year since the liberal arts have been out of fashion for some time.
In the spirit of Halloween, let’s see how well the twenty-first-century Common Core class would handle an actual book: say, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, one of the most memorable philosophical novels in British literature. In the Pearson/Prentice Hall literature textbook called The British Tradition, seventeen pages are ostensibly dedicated to Frankenstein. Two of those are taken up by modern author Elizabeth McCracken telling students about the scary movies she watched as a child, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as dreams she had. Under the heading “Critical Reading,” students are asked what movies McCracken watched as a child. Another page features a hokey picture of a Frankenstein monster circa 1955.
In the margins of the Teacher’s Edition to the textbook, teachers are encouraged to ask their students what “classic” stories of urban myths, tales of alien abductions, or ghost stories they have heard. Examples include stories of alligators in sewers, a man abducted for his kidneys, and aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Students are asked to write a paragraph on “one of these modern urban myths.” The learning continues when students are challenged to write “a brief autobiography of a monster.” The editors lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of “the humans confronting the monster.” They want to turn the tables by having students consider “what monsters think about their treatment.” Those poor, misunderstood monsters!