CCSS Close Reading is throwback to 1940s/50s

 In Common Core

I wanted to pass along some interesting information to you that I have been following for quite some time. It involves the literary approach prescribed by the authors of the Common Core Standards. I happened to come across an article this past summer that piqued my interest when it referred to the instructional approach for Close Reading as similar to New Criticism used in the 1940s and 1950s. I did a little research on this and low and behold it does! I emailed Sandra Stotsky, Member of the Validation Committee for the Standards and Professor Emerita University of Arkansas (as well as the author of the Massachusetts ELA Curriculum standards) about this very issue. She confirmed that this appeared to be the approach and that this should not be used in History, but for poetry, since this is what it was designed for. In my research I found that there are multiple approaches to studying literature, some of which are way more conducive to Catholic schools, such as a Moral/Philosophical approach. There must be well over 10-15 different approaches, yet the Common Core Standards are advocating heavily this one instructional approach above all others.

Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Mercedes Schneider (Ph.D. in research, English teacher, and author of A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s who in the implosion of American Public Schools) with the link to another post by Dr. Daniel Katz, an English professor and instructor of prospective teachers at Seton Hall University, discussing this prescribed approach for literary analysis.


CCSS ELA Is New Criticism

CCSS ELA emphasizes New Criticism literary analysis, which excludes moving beyond the text itself in deriving meaning from a text. No historical context considered in understanding a text. No reader experience tied to understanding a text.

This type of “interpretation” seriously limits critical thought and pigeon-holes cross-curricular instruction.

CCSS ELA tells the masses, “Consider the text in isolation.”

As an intelligent being, I have a really hard time being told that I must not exit a text in order to justify my understanding of it.

CCSS ELA disregards the con-text of texts.

CCSS ELA “lead architect” David Coleman prefers New Criticism. As such, Coleman prefers to stay “inside” of a text. Moreover, he has peddled a technique to do so, one that has gained national popularity for its coming from the mouth of non-teacher, edupreneur Coleman: close reading.

Teachers who follow CCSS ELA must disregard any instructional materials that direct students to consider context not mentioned inside of a text, whether historical context or (certainly) the reader’s personal experience, in approaching a text.

It is one issue to utilize New Criticism sometimes and its alternative, Reader Response, other times. But CCSS lacks this balance.

Thus, CCSS ELA does indeed restrict curricular decisions, and not for the better.


I would also like to add that this particular approach is antithetical to the pursuit of truth that is a hallmark of our Catholic curriculum. Confining our students to a discussion surrounding the search for textual evidence is not a bad thing in and of itself. All good teachers ask students to state the source for their answer, but to exclusively rule out discussion of other perspectives and an attempt to arrive at an objective truth is disingenuous to all that a Catholic school stands for. Certainly, this approach has its place – in poetry – and not as a universal instructional approach to be in all disciplines.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment