Delaware’s New Writing Standards Seek to Improve Lagging Skills in K-12 Students
Implemented this year, the new standards require more nonfiction education and writing, as well as history, social sciences and more.
(page 2 of 4)
Classics Fade as New Media Rises
The debate has long existed in America about the degree to which the quality of English high school education has deteriorated as a result of the decline in the teaching of European and American classics.
“We’ve been hearing that we’re in a literary crisis—and that students don’t know how to write—since the 19th century,” says Melissa Ianetta, director of writing at the University of Delaware.
For at least 100 years, teachers have understood that great literature includes the work of many contemporary and diverse storytellers. Yet schools far and wide have continued to focus on fiction, with varying degrees of emphasis on the classics.
Proponents have argued that classics produce themes that unite humanity and show how history repeats itself. A few schools have built their entire curriculums on classics. The Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle boasts the state’s highest combined SAT score among private schools, at 1905. By spending time on grammar, dialectic and rhetoric, students master a subject and communicate it to others.
Ianetta says that is exactly what she expects of college freshmen. “They need to be able to accomplish something with their writing,” she says.
But reaching that level of ease and proficiency with writing requires work that extends beyond high school, says Patricia Oliphant, principal at the successful Sussex Academy of Arts & Sciences charter school in Georgetown. The school, which plans to expand into a high school in fall, consistently prepares its students with a rigorous curriculum that enables them to reach toward the highest assessment scores in the state.
Oliphant says the challenge in teaching writing is that society’s youngest generations don’t read enough. They’re getting their information from technology rather than the written word. Children who have grown up with video games and YouTube have a harder time relating to black print and the language of classical literature.
“They are definitely listening more than they have ever listened before,” Oliphant says. “But they have not had as much practice and experience reading denser text. This is a life skill, not just a school activity.”
Sussex Academy’s high school program will continue with the expeditionary learning principles now in place at the middle school. It includes exposing students to topics at greater depth. The high school also will use the renowned International Baccalaureate program to instill in students a more global perspective.
Oliphant says being able to study topics deeply instead of widely allows students to use high-level cognitive skills. They learn to reason, synthesize, analyze and solve problems—the skills that will be demanded of all students under the new Common Core State Standards.