The late, great Douglas Adams would have been 62 today - not that we need an excuse to remind ourselves of his wit and wisdom.
15 March 2014
I don't recall which author it was, but I remember one of the very earliest disappointments I had in relationship to existing assessment structures for Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts came as a result of reading a sample question based upon an example of literary reading that was not literary reading at all. It was a excerpt from a piece of writing that was a moderately eloquent biography of a literary author.
"Reading biographies, even moderately eloquent biographies, is informational reading isn't it?" I wondered; annoyed at the pretense that existing capabilities of assessing literary reading is even doable within an acceptable margin of error. Aggravated that informational reading was being passed off as literary reading and that the best the developers of assessment tools could do is a masked attempt to measure advanced literacy skills.
Though I actually am a proponent of assessment as a means of holding students AND educators accountable, I can't help but find what I have seen specifically in regards to literary reading, to be efforts standing upon wobbly legs at best. I still wonder if the well-intended efforts to assess literary reading by assessing literacy skills rather than measuring the value-gain that literary appreciation can bring to one's life, most of which is probably much more significant in the narrower realm beyond college and career preparation, (as though authors actually write to those pragmatic goals) are responsible for unintended damage to literature as a palatable and inviting source of developing wisdom.
When I came across this article it reminded me that I used to raise conversations in my classes about the Venn diagram resulting from two words; "Facts" and "Truth."
Somewhere along the line, I came to realize that when I was teaching essay writing (sometimes referred to as "Robot Writing" by college professors who often cringe at the Five-Paragraph Essay) that Facts are the trump card because Facts assure Truth. Yet, when teaching literature Truth trumps Facts. Think Grapes of Wrath for example. Think Candide for example. Think A Modest Proposal for example. Think Death of a Salesman for example.
It is the very "FACT" that "FICTION" isn't true that makes "FICTION a palatable mode of increasing reader receptiveness to the TRUTHS that FICTION brings "between its lines" to contemplative readers. And, I would be so presumptuous as to suggest that this is a "FACT."
So, when I came across this article, though I've only read a couple of Douglas Adams' books, that my crazy mind thought that it might prove quite a valuable learning experience in, not literary reading but informational reading.
What might happen is students were asked to read the preface and 15 featured quotes from Adams' work as an exercise in Informational reading?
After all, if biographies can be considered Literary Reading, why can't fiction be considered Informational Reading?
My thought is this. What if students were asked to read the 15 quotes in pairs or groups of no more than three and asked to discuss whether the quotes were "Facts" or "Truths"?
What do you think? A few examples with which one might practice...
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
(Any similarity to concerns about margin of error in existing literary reading assessment practice is purely unintentional)
"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."
(Reminds me of the counter-argument to the reason for studying history, "The only lesson we learn from history is that we don't learn from history." And, anyone who has studied history knows that the failure to have learned from history is a fairly common theme)
"A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.'"
There are others, some more easily dismissed as just not being true primarily because the truth being exposed is not 100% true 100% of the time. And, yet most can not be dismissed as Not True (double negative intended) because they are true to such a degree that they represent very true realities of significant and truly negative impact in the real world.
Once the small groups had come to some judgement about the factuality or truth of each statement, I might even extend the exercise to require the groups to attempt to articulate a considered concession to those who would have judged the quotes with the opposing conclusion.
And, perhaps I might even take the conversation to a consideration of when it might be extremely important to premise decisions upon fact and when it might be extremely important to premise decisions upon truth.
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