15 Dec, 2013
In 2013 a study by the US Department of Education showed that only 32 percent of American fourth-graders are reading at or above the proficiency of their grade level. One out of every 3 students in America have scored "below basic" on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reading test. the United States was once the leading country in every aspect, including education, but now it has fallen behind to 17th place in reading scores when compared internationally. What has caused this dramatic drop in proficiency among American students? In the essay "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read", writer Francine Prose exposes and examines the fallen standards and serious flaws in current US education.
In her essay Prose calls out the methods in which children are being taught in American schools. She believes that America has fallen so far behind because teachers are forcing children to read classic literature in a way that leaves the student with no appreciation of the book nor the author, and instead students are "informed that literature is principally a vehicle for the soporific moral blather they suffer daily from their parents" (Paragraph 15, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read", Francine Prose). Students are, instead of closely reading and analyzing a text to understand the true meaning, forced to examine superficial topics within a novel and apply them in a way that has no benefit towards education or the grasping of the text, and leaves the student resenting not only the teacher and assignment, but the author and the novel itself. Teachers are no longer teaching the book, but teaching for some outlook that the author may or may not have had. A book is no longer read for the story it provides but is read for who the author is and what they represent. Prose mentions a motion passed in 1999 by the San Francisco Board of Education mandating that "works of literature read in class in grades nine to eleven by each high school student must include works by writers of color which reflect the diversity of culture, race, and class…" (Paragraph 16, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read", Francine Prose). Has America really become so sensitive towards the topic of race that schools are forced to rearrange their reading lists to make sure than an author "of color" is represented in every class at least once every year? And not only the author, but the book must represent a race "of color" and the culture they represent. Has America wandered so far from the appreciation of literature that it is more concerned with keeping a couple racially-proud parents happy than with teaching children quality works of classical literature? Education has become so concerned with keeping the adults happy that the children are being left behind.
Despite the strict guidelines put on reading lists students are still being exposed to what is still considered by Prose to be "masterpieces". The books are being read nationwide by students of all races and abilities, yet student have no knowledge of how to read an interpret classical and complex literature. What is the explanation for the failure of these students? Prose proposes that "The explanation, it turns out, lies in how these books, even then best of them, are being presented in the classroom. (…) Only rarely do teachers propose that writing might be worth reading closely" (Paragraph 15, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read", Francine Prose). She goes on to say "The present vogue for teaching 'values' through literature uses the novel as a springboard for the sort of discussion formerly conducted in civics or ethics classes - areas of study that, in theory, have been phased out of the curriculum but that, in fact, have been retained and cleverly substituted for what we used to call English" (Paragraph 15, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read", Francine Prose). Teachers, instead of actually teaching skills...
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