Vox populi

Comments of the Week: The informational text and the poem

Several readers sought to assuage high school teacher William Johnson’s fears, shared this week in a Community post, that new standards will render his English class “deadly boring” with its emphasis on informational texts.

The Common Core standards, which the city is rolling out right now, ask students to read more non-fiction than they traditionally have in school. A nearly 50-50 balance of fiction and non-fiction in eighth grade is supposed to shift to 70 percent non-fiction in 12th grade.

Several commenters said they thought the addition of more “informational texts” need not be a bad thing, and in fact could be a boon to some students. But one commenter used a poem, by William Carlos Williams, to let Johnson know that he is not alone in his fears.

(And speaking of the new learning standards: Please join us Nov. 26 to talk about the Common Core over wine and cheese!)

A.S. Neill said he is not a fan of the Common Core – but he still thinks there is an upside to its reading requirements:

Research shows that males read less and more poorly than females but girls prefer narrative fiction, romances, poetry, plays while boys prefer science fiction, fantasy, special interest, and news. It has been suggested that the emphasis on the former while limiting the latter by teachers and librarians (confirmed by research), is part of the explanation of the gender gap in reading. … This in fact, was my personal experience in school.

That comment got Mr. Flerporillo thinking:

Interesting. I bristled at first at the Venus versus Mars angle of your post. But then I remembered the first books I loved, before I ever heard of a Canon or considered that the contents of one’s bookcases was a marker of class and taste: Orwell, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Asimov. Spot on in my case, A.S. Neill. And something to think about as the father of a son who’s less intense about reading than his sister.

Johnson clarified his concerns in response:

My concern is about the emphasis on “informational texts,” which I think is related to a reductive notion about the purpose of reading and writing. A great biography is hardly a mere source of information: it’s a deliberately constructed narrative that serves multiple functions, very few of which have to do with transmitting information. My fear is that the people behind the Common Core do not share the passion for reading and writing that is clearly evident in this comment thread, and have designed a set of standards that reflect this lack of passion, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of what literature is.

Parent Matthew Levey suggested that the issue might be the Common Core creators’ word choice, not their goal:

I think many observers are (ironically?) getting hung up on the semantics of “informational texts.” Of course I want my child to read Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t mean he should not read “Warriors Don’t Cry” or “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Taught effectively each of these texts offers rich opportunities to impart valuable lessons about literary style and technique, but also history, geography, and human emotions.

But one commenter said he shared Johnson’s concerns fully. Juggleandhope even used a poem, a communication form that some fear could be marginalized under the Common Core, to make his point:

i think William Carlos Williams correctly argues,
“My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”

not just men, of course, also women and students of all ages.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede