‘Decentering Book Reading and Essay Writing,’ Says National Council of English Teachers

A report of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) encourages teachers of English and language arts to move away from “reading books and writing essays” – and towards “speaking and listening” and ” media education”.

NCTE set up a Critical Media Education Task Force in June 2020. Does anyone else remember what happened that year?

48 states had farm in-person education for more than 50.2 million public school students. But the NCTE said it was important to assess “the current national landscape of policies, practices, resources and dialogue related to critical media literacy”.

Given that most schools were unprepared for remote learning, teachers struggled to complete basic lessons, and students fell through the cracks, the task force launch was a exercise in deafness, a disconnection from parents’ real concerns about their children’s education.

the report shows the NCTE’s deep concern for Marxist issues such as “equity” and “power relations”. It lists a central theme:

Exploring representation and power through critical reading, listening and visualization. Educators value the use of teaching and learning practices that help identify and disrupt inequalities in contemporary life, including structural racism, sexism, consumerism, and economic injustice (their emphasis).

The NCTE was engaging in politics as schools and students struggled to stay above water.

A second theme of the report is:Strengthen the voice with writing, speaking and self-expression (their emphasis). Schools and students should move away from the written word and engage in the “wide range of media genres and forms, including journalism, blog posts, advertising, political campaigning, YouTube videos, social media, Buzzfeed-style lists, photo essays, podcasts, infographics, and many other forms.

It’s true that good English and Language Arts (ELA) teachers have always engaged in interesting, fun, and creative homework that engages students. These can involve film, visual and performing arts, and various media. But the NCTE advocates a shift away from literature and writing, and advocates that these other modes of expression should be at the heart of English lessons – with a social agenda, to boot.

Not an elective or unit on Journalism, Media, Advertising, and Social Media, but these other modes should be moved to the center of ELA teaching.

Part of what drives the NCTE is the fear of ‘misinformation’, ‘fake news’ and ‘disinformation’.

The NCTE believes that teachers should “decenter” (isn’t academic jargon the worst?) literature and writing, replacing these key elements of college life with students’ opinions and their interactions with media:

Everyone in our society must now be able to assess the widely varying quality of information, entertainment and persuasion that surrounds it, assess the veracity and validity of claims, and debunk misinformation if necessary.

But this raises an important question: who decides what is “fake news”? The partisan media heritage? Social media fact checkers? The teachers’ unions? Education departments?

the report is filled with woke, supposedly “progressive” language, using terms such as “systemic inequality,” “social justice,” “power and inequity,” and “representation and power.”

With this new emphasis on “critical literacy,” students would “focus on the uses of literacy for social justice in marginalized and disenfranchised communities.” To understand “critical media literacy”:

Students examine mass communication, popular culture, and new technologies by analyzing the relationships between media and audiences, information, and power, often paying particular attention to media institutions and representations that address systemic inequalities and social justice.

The task force says ELA teachers should add “media literacy” to their list of activities so that students can “begin to deepen their socio-political awareness by recognizing how power relations structure the narratives that affect us. surround”.

Most ELA teachers already have their hands full, as I have known for five years teaching English in high school.

They are generally expected to guide students in reading, understanding, and interpreting literature, including poetry, short stories, plays, essays, and novels. Along the way, they make forays into history, explaining different periods of literature.

They work to help students develop writing skills, which includes teaching vocabulary and word usage, grammar and punctuation, research and organization skills, and thoughtful analysis of literature and ideas.

Most already emphasize spoken English, facilitate class discussions, help with class presentations, and award memorization and poetry recitations.

English teachers function as cheerleaders and motivators, sparking interest in literature, striving to make material relevant to students, and juggling their own homework with the wide variety of sports, activities and other lessons in which students participate.

Good teachers maintain communication and connections with students and their parents. They function as amateur psychologists, knowing when to speak with parents and counselors, and reporting suspected cases of abuse or neglect. They take care of students’ illnesses, absences and remedial work.

ELA teachers grade essays and tests, recording results and attendance. They help prepare students for the variety of tests from state and federal governments, as well as equip students for various college essays and entrance exams.

This is not a job for the faint hearted.

It is clear that the NCTE wants to pursue an ideological agenda, which is not what most parents want for their children.

Most parents want their children to have a basic understanding of literature that is part of our western heritage. They want students to be fluent in reading and writing – not pushed by teachers into political ideology and social activism.

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Photo of Shutterstock.

Scott R. Banks