Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Most Important Writer in America

I read the Common Core Standards' list of informational texts that illustrate the complexity, quality and range of student reading for grades 6-8. (Page 58... I’ll wait.)

“John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Ann Petry and John Steinbeck. Where is Keith Barry? How could you make a list of informational texts for 6-8th graders and leave off the work of the most important writer in America?”

Maybe you’re familiar with the other names- Douglass and Churchill- but you’re drawing a blank on Keith Barry. Well, don’t feel bad because I’m not that familiar with his work, either. Still, even though I don’t read his work, I believe Keith Barry is the most important writer in America for 6-8th graders. He blogs for Wired Magazine on the topic “Autopia.” Among other automotive things, he writes about the pursuit of the accident-proof automobile. He interviews engineers and rides along while they test drive cars equipped with auto-pilot. In this new age in education, as we usher in common national standards and we think about reading instruction that might inspire students to think in innovative ways about science, social studies, and math, we ought to consider new text types about innovative research happening now.

We can keep Harriet Tubman on the list. Like I said, I don’t really read Barry’s writing. I’m an English teacher, a bibliophile. If you don’t watch me closely, I’ll recommend Vonnegut to a freshman basketball player. I’m so out of touch, I will recommend Isaac Asimov’s I Robot to help students understand the perils of technology instead of handing them Discover Magazine. I think Ted Conover is a really contemporary author of informational new journalism.

Here's Conover's blog.

Did you go to his blog? Did you see his picture? He’s an old guy. And I think he’s a contemporary author.


Because I’m an old guy. I’m not as old as Isaac Asimov, but I’m old. And white. By definition I’m in constant peril of being out of touch. If you asked me to create a list of informational texts to illustrate quality and complexity, I would probably make a list similar to the Common Core's, leaving out anything that relates to now, which is why I need to keep reading things like Keith Barry’s blog. I need to declare that Keith Barry is the most important writer in America. Maybe he’s so important just because I can follow him on Twitter. While I'm at it, I could follow the people Keith Barry follows on Twitter. In that way, I could try to stay in touch.

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