Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What is the Relationship Between Humanities and Literacy?

Valerie Strauss:

The Boston public schools district found itself in the position of having to issue a public statement denying that it was eliminating its history and social studies department after someone posted on the Web that it was and the news went viral in the education world. Historians assumed it was true and rightly flipped out.

What happened?

According to Eileen de los Reyes, deputy superintendent of academics, the school district is, for the first time in many years, reorganizing its academic departments to make them more inter-disciplinary and to help implement the Common Core State Standards. As part of the reorganization, job positions are being rewritten across the various departments and dozens of people are being asked to reapply for their jobs. People in the history department did get notices but they weren’t the only ones. Part of the online buzz was that history and social studies were being absorbed into a new uber-humanities department. In fact, the departments of history, English-Language Arts and world languages are coming under a new humanities umbrella for purposes of better coordination, she said. Likewise, a new science umbrella will include science, technology and engineering, while a new “specialized learning” umbrella will include special education and English Language Learners.

Ah yes, nothing helps a district with apparent problems with absorbing a stream of externally imposed reforms, inter-departmental rivalry, and communication than a between-superintendents reorganization hastily drawn up in response to a self-interested consultant report.

More specifically though, hacking together an interdisciplinary scheme in response to the Common Core ELA/Literacy standards is bound to go badly, because the CC does not manage to articulate a vision for English and/or Language Arts as a complete discipline.

There's definitely muddled language around this new "uber-humanities" umbrella. Is it "humanities" or "humanities and literacy," as suggested by the title of the new job description? It seems as though the "arts" will not be part of the "humanities" in this scheme, but its own cluster.

This is like creating a new cluster for math, science and technology called "STEM and Numeracy," while keeping computer science and robotics in its own separate domain.

School reform that is intellectually incoherent is just not going to work.

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