What follows is my in response to the synthesis question: Should high school students be required to read specific texts?
- I have italicized words and phrases that are used as verbal signals to the differing sides (they say) of the argument and my own (I say) opinion in relationship to those sides. These words and phrases automatically guide the reader through the argument in a coversational way.
Education has historically been the responsibility of states, with minimal support and input from the federal government. Nonetheless, in the age of globalization and stiff competition among countries to produce the best educational outcomes for their students, the debate about standardized curriculum continues. On one hand, many claim that states should retain their autonomy because they have a much more nuanced understanding of their student population and should be able to meet their unique needs, while others claim that issuing a federal mandate will result in a stronger educational system and more equitable educational outcomes for students. While these represent the extremes in the argument over required texts and curriculum, they fail to consider the complexity of the issue. And while there may be no unanimous agreement about which side is right, our goal should be to provide students with a strong foundation from which to seek future success. In order to provide a solid foundation, there should be a minimal list of requirements that are of interest to all educated individuals, while still preserving the rights of individual states, schools, or districts to determine what best suits the needs of their unique student populations.
One of the major issues in the debate is what books should be required if all 50 states are going to expose their students to common texts. Source B provides some insight into what has already been required. The chart in Source B implies that we require all students, private and public, to read Shakespeare and American literature. While Source B lists specific titles, those titles fit under the two aforementioned categories, categories which are part of an informed citizen’s basic knowledge. It is reasonable to require students to read Shakespeare because he has influenced and informed many great works of literature in his wake. As a required author, Shakespeare would provide students with the kind of foundational understanding necessary for comprehending much of the work of Western Literature, and many of the themes that transcend the Western Canon. This would allow students easier access and understanding to the texts that are chosen locally based on unique student populations. There are heroes, villains, comedies and tragedies in all cultures and Shakespeare is arguably the source from which much great literature has taken shape. To be clear, the requirement would be Shakespeare, not a specific Shakespeare play; in this manner students are required to read an author of great significance, yet given a choice about which of his numerous works in which to engage. This is an ideal balance because it preserves a student or district’s right to choose, yet gives them a requirement to guide their choice. This choice is made easier by the fact that nearly all of Shakespeare’s works have been digitized and are available with the simple click of a mouse, an issue which Source F directly addresses. While I do not agree with Source F’s assertion that the canon is irrelevant, they do bring up another important issue, which is ease of access to great works. With this ease, students and districts can provide a considerable amount of choice when making guided decisions about required texts. While the argument above pertains to Shakespeare, students could follow a similar pattern with American Literature, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn, both seminal American works that represent cultural understanding and tolerance, a trait we want all of our students to have as a result of their education. Ultimately, complete autonomy or complete dictation of required texts is unfeasible, yet providing important categories of literature which are foundational to understanding, and providing choice and wide access within that category, is a compromise most everyone can live with and reasonably implement.