Literature and Historical Texts Remain a Vibrant and Vital Component of English Language Arts Education


States’ increased focus on college and career readiness, and specifically the use of non-fiction texts, may be impairing civic engagement, an Education Dive article suggests.

“The focus on career and college readiness and training elite workers as a national goal has been misplaced,” argues David Kirkland, a professor at New York University. Policy should instead focus on “creating citizens that are able to vote because they are able to discern between fact and fiction.”

“Civic education, along with other important parts of curriculum, has been diminished or eliminated by an accountability movement that wants to focus on STEM subjects,” adds Charles Quigley, executive director of the Center of Civic Education.

Contrary to the article’s suggestion, however, literature has hardly been removed from classrooms. It remains a vibrant and vital component of English language arts learning.

While states have begun to require more nonfiction materials – as much as 70 percent of texts for high-school students – those requirements are spread across all subjects, like social studies and sciences. That ensures literature remains a primary focus of English language arts.

Nothing about states’ efforts to incorporate more informational texts says literature cannot be used, Meaghan Freeman, a high school English teacher, wrote last year. “In fact, after three years of using them in my classroom, I’ve found that the standards acknowledge that I am an English teacher and that they trust me to do my job.”

Sarah Inendino, a music teacher in Illinois, explains that the greater emphasis on non-fiction text through higher standards, coupled with new technologies, is creating new opportunities to integrate traditional topics, like math and reading, with the arts and physical education. Collaboration with other teachers, she adds, is nearly “seamless.”

In testimony before the Ohio House Education Committee, Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli explained that greater focus on non-fiction reading asks “schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music and literature… They ensure students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.”

States have begun to raise academic expectations for the purpose of helping students develop critical thinking and literacy skills, which are necessary to become active and engaged citizens. As the article points out, without being able to think critically and analyze information, students can’t make informed choices at the local, state and national level.

As states now require more nonfiction materials, “students are getting regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing… The ELA standards are also influencing the way teachers approach instruction to help students achieve the standards,” a report by the Center for American Progress notes.

By incorporating more informational materials, like the Declaration of Independence and other important historical texts, alongside classic literature and imagined works, states and school districts are helping students build the skills to become informed and engaged citizens. To turn back on that commitment would be a mistake.