Monday, May 20, 2013

The University of Minnesota, High School Literature, and College Credit

I recently read an article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune opinion page called ‘What does University of Minnesota have against classics?’ by Mark Bauerlein. The article focuses on a University of Minnesota program called College in the Schools (CIS), which is "a long-running initiative that helps high schools develop rigorous courses in different subjects and awards students university credits". Bauerlein targets the CIS English and Literature course and claims that the suggested reading course actively excludes classics and is restricted to contemporary works that highlight multiculturalism and social identities. He claims that the University refuses to award credit to students if their high school has chosen to "teach pre-1950s English and American literature". He also adds that the suggested CIS syllabi fail Minnesota's state reading standards for grades 11-12, which state: "Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature...". Bauerlein concludes that the University should no longer pressure and entice students and schools with college credit into neglecting the classics.

Upon my own examination of the CIS program, I found that not all of Bauerlein's claims are true. His biggest argument is that the University refuses to award credit to students if their high school has chosen to teach classic literature, which is not the case. The CIS book list is a "recommended reading list" that "may be used at the individual instructor's discretion". This leads me to believe that while the program seeks to recommend literature that highlights multiculturalism and social identity, the exclusion of classic literature is not intended. That being said, classic literature has an indispensable value in English language and literature education. Studying the classics provides a strong sense of English grammar and vocabulary, and is critical in the journey of developing writing skills as it imparts a keener attention to detail. Furthermore, studying the classics has much of the same value as studying history. The stories are not archaic tales that are not relevant to our times, but rather present problems similar to the ones that exist today, if not the same. Reading the classics is a way to learn from the past and gain another perspective on our complex world.

I also noticed the emphasis on the credit value of the CIS program. On the Frequently-Asked-Questions portion of the program website, it is repeatedly stated that the course is worth credit at the University of Minnesota. This is even more evident when the CIS program is compared to Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. The CIS website states that a major difference between the CIS program and AP/IB courses is the guaranteed credit. AP or IB courses may or may not translate into college credit despite perfect scores on their respective exams. The website also provides a complete list of other universities and colleges that recognize the program. As a student that will be attending college in the fall, I know how appealing the possibility of college credit can be. I agree with Bauerlein’s opinion that credit is used as an enticement for students. I believe that it is crucial to evaluate the educational and personal value of a subject or program for oneself, rather than focusing on the reward in credit. Credit is temporary and only applicable while a student is in school. Personal fulfillment and knowledge are valid forever.

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