Laura Ingalls Wilder Meets Common Core

When I was a child, in 3rd grade, I fell in love with Little House in the Big Woods. I distinctly remember locating it in the little classroom library. I am not sure if I read it before or after Caddie Woodlawn, another fine chapter book about strong pioneer girls. There were no benchmarks—I don’t recall even doing a book report.

Now, if you Google Little House in the Big Woods you will find a gazillion ways to address the Common Core. The books are considered a must read, and it appears that if you aren’t exposed to reading them, early on, you will not go far in life. There are even picture books to pave the way for the chapter books to make sure teachers and their students don’t flub up and miss out.

Those books were not made to appear like I would be a failure if I didn’t read them when I was young. No one warned me that I wouldn’t be able to get into Harvard if I didn’t read them. I, quite frankly, never heard of Harvard or any other college in third grade.

When I first read Little House in the Big Woods, I wasn’t made to learn about Laura Ingalls Wilder the author, or given a whole long list of vocabulary words out of the book to define. I didn’t have to locate descriptive words—no one graded me down if I didn’t know what quinine meant.

I didn’t have to identify alliteration and the syllables in the words. I didn’t need to prove I could identify singular and plural nouns or the parts of speech. I wasn’t made to go back and describe the cliffhangers, although I probably did tell my little friends about some of them. I didn’t even have to write about the story using graphic organizers.

I only remember yearning for time after school and on the weekend to be able to immerse myself in the story. And, much to my delight, when I finished Little House in the Big Woods, I discovered On the Banks of Plum Creek!

I am not saying that it isn’t nice to learn additional things surrounding a novel. I think older students might benefit from this, and younger children might enjoy learning facts about a story. I read Mary Poppins to my daughter after she saw the movie, and we both got a kick out of learning the meaning of a perambulator. Children are usually naturally curious.

But it is the whole crisis idea behind Common Core…the benchmarks and scaffolding…the outrageously wordy micromanagement, applied to teaching, that we should all question. It is the marketing of programs that promise to fill every child with all the knowledge, we are told, children will ever need, so they won’t disgrace their country and be economic losers in the long run.

This message–if children are not presented the Laura Ingalls Wilder books this way–they will surely fail, is a wrong message. It is harmful to children and discourages them from the pure, great joy of reading.

I read these books in the 1950s. And children have learned to read in public schools for years since then. There was never any real crisis. Certainly, there will be children who have difficulty learning to read, and they will need extra assistance. But from what I’ve seen, and as a teacher who once worked with middle and high school students with reading difficulties, Common Core isn’t it.

A while back I returned to the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series and finished reading the books about when she became an adult. I was just as excited about reading them, at this time, as I was when I was a child.

That is the beauty of the joy of learning. It should never leave you. But I don’t think I would have ever cared to return to those books if I’d had to learn about them originally with Common Core strategies. It would have seemed like too much of a chore.

bailey-489_0_0-300x199Nancy Bailey is an education activist and a former special education teacher.  Her book is titled Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students.  Her blog is Catch up with her on twitter @NancyEBailley1

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