Virginia Downplays Literary Significance In State Education Standards

A recently approved draft of English Language Arts (ELA) standards for the state of Virginia places more emphasis on collaboration than true knowledge and appreciation for literature.

The draft guidance, which includes recommendations for kindergarten through 12th grade, was adopted by Virginia’s Department of Education on March 28. The 110-page document discusses broad goals related to problem solving and collaboration but does not focus as much on the need to read and learn classic literature.

Its shortcomings were outlined by Mark Bauerlein, an editor for First Things magazine who used to teach at Emory University, in an April 8 article published in The Federalist.

The document details a number of “guiding principles” that are expected to shape the ELA instruction of K-12 schools in Virginia. These principles include motivating students to “embrace the joy of unlocking new knowledge, worlds and experiences;” helping every student attain “on or above grade level” reading skills by third grade; preparing students to be “effective communicator[s];” teaching in a way that “embrace[s] the science of reading;” and using artificial intelligence (AI) to instruct “in a safe, ethical and responsible manner.”

The two principles that more specifically addressed the importance of literature included a stipulation to help students “demonstrate competency with reading, writing, discussing, and presenting a broad selection of both informational and literary texts and books” as well as introducing students to “a wide variety” of literature and authors.

As noted by Bauerlein, even the specific literary references in the document are “a lax demand” that would only require students to be reading “a few poems and novels.” He argued that the emphasis on literature, when present in the guidance, is “an exhortation” rather than a standard and that it will not “be assessed.”

The professor emeritus also wrote that Virginia students across various school districts will have “no common reading” or “shared experience” as curriculum will vary. He added that the state is depriving students of “what they really need” by not requiring them to read classic works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and John Keats, among others.

Bauerlein lamented that education leaders in Virginia have not followed the example of states like Florida and Georgia, “whose governors understand the importance of literary tradition to the formation of young Americans.”

The updated draft guidance comes several months after the release of the 2022-2023 school year annual report from the Department of Education, which saw significant setbacks among student achievement since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state’s report, over 50% of students in third through eighth grade are at risk or below the standards for reading proficiency.

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