It’s true. If you don’t believe me, just check the UK’s 157 year-old Telegraph, a venerable and highly-respected conservative newspaper. In an article entitled ‘Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum’ it states:
American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.
A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.
Books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards.
Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council.
Predictably, social media, book blogs and discussion boards have been alight with fury about this article. Parents have been outraged. Book lovers are hysterical. English teachers have predicted the end of civilisation.
Here’s the problem: what they are implying isn’t true. The UK’s Telegraph just ran a master class on how the press misleads.
Growing up, I had no idea the media distorted things. I thought their job was to truthfully report what was happening in the world. But in 1992 I went to see Vice President Dan Quayle give a speech, and that night I was shocked to see how the press condensed and twisted and manipulated his words to fit a few key points they wanted to talk about. I believe that was when a healthy dose of cynicism entered me. Thank God for that.
My inner Cynic led me to do a bit of research on this Telegraph claim. The ’70 per cent non-fiction’ rule applies to the entire curriculum. Students would not be reading novels in Math, Computer Science, Physical Education or Wood Shop. They would be reading non-fiction, as only makes sense. If English makes up 30 per cent of a student’s workload, there you will find novels.
I have no idea why the Telegraph mentioned Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. The Common Core State Standards don’t mention them, as far as I can figure. They must have just picked these titles out of thin air. (I say ‘they’ because the article has no byline, alas. I really can’t blame them. If my newspaper editor forced me to write something like this, I wouldn’t want my name on it, either.)
So why is the article so misleading? It is possible that it was a simple mistake. But I doubt it. I think the real reason was because they wanted hits, attention, buzz. This purpose of this story was not to inform. It was to get noticed, so advertisers would see the large numbers of readers and pay more. It’s been said before, and it will be said again: don’t believe everything you read. Even if it is from a venerable and respected newspaper.