The Common Core Standards are opposed by many teachers for a variety of reasons. Yet I submit that if critical thinking is one of their goals, the standards can prove to be a blessing in disguise. I say that because non-fiction is supposed to constitute 70 percent of what students read by their senior year. That's where quality journalism comes in. By engaging students and providing models, newspapers and magazines have the potential to do what traditional textbooks cannot.
Readers of this column will recall two books that I believe provide outstanding models of effective non-fiction writing. Both A Treasure of Great Reporting (Simon and Schuster, 1962) and The Faces of Five Decades (Simon and Schuster, 1964) contain essays and reportage that students can relate to. For an even better source, I recommend Arts & Letters Daily (aldaily.com), which bills itself as "ideas, criticism and debate." Teachers will find a menu of essays from mainstream journals, as well as essays from esoteric newspapers and magazines.
By allowing students to choose any essay that captures their attention, teachers will take the first step in instructing them about bias, facts and agendas ("Schools demanding news literacy lessons to teach students how to find fact amid fiction," The Washington Post, Apr. 15). Because the site is refreshed often, students can identify with the timeliness of the selections.
After students have finished reading their selection, they can then try their hand at writing a letter to the editor. I make that suggestion because a letter to the editor is essentially a mini essay. It forces students to learn how to express themselves clearly and concisely. If they can't state their point in fewer than 150 words, they certainly won't be able to convincingly elaborate on it in a 600-word essay.
So rather than curse the Common Core standards for placing heavy emphasis on non-fiction text, perhaps teachers should view them as an ally to achieve their goal of teaching critical thinking. They may be pleasantly surprised by the results.