Teacher Reprimanded for Assigning Book

Genomsnitt, MN—A high school English teacher faces public scolding and possible dismissal for assigning a book to her students, Superintendent Harry Billiard announced on Friday. “Let this be a warning to all,” he said. “To assign a book is impositional. The kids aren’t there yet. Plus, how do you know they’ll like the book?” Billiard explained that the specific book (To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf) wasn’t the issue; the problem lay in assigning any book at all.

According to anonymous sources, the teacher had assumed presumptuously that a literature course should feature works of literature. Moreover, she had fickly concluded that, since the current Common Core standards emphasize the importance of reading complex texts, she should actually include them in her curriculum.

“Students should read them, yes, but that doesn’t mean teachers should assign them,” explained Billiard. “Students should be empowered to make their own choices. Then, if they don’t, the teacher will be held accountable for the situation.” Students are expected to read at least twenty complex texts, of their own free will, over the course of the year. If they fail to do so, it means the teacher has neglected to incorporate best practices—in particular, the software.

“What software?” asked the teacher, who requested anonymity for the time being, knowing that her picture would be plastered over the papers within the next 24 hours. “I didn’t know there was software for my course on modernism, and I’m not sure I’d want any.”

“There isn’t software for modernism yet, that’s right,” Billiard responded. “But there’s software for the skills that students would be using when reading something modernist like, um, who’s a good modernist writer? I’m drawing a blank right now.”

If the teacher had been doing her job, she would have had the students practice their skills during class time with the aid of the software, which would provide a variety of short texts geared to their interests. After they passed a multiple-choice test at a given level, the software would recommend further reading on the basis of their preferences and performance. “That way, you’re letting them get creative,” said Billiard. “They have some ownership of the books they read. It isn’t just some teacher telling them ‘you’ve got to read this,’ when it’s got nothing to do with where they are.”

“I’m kind of glad we did start to read To the Lighthouse,” countered Jeremy Pembek, a senior. “When the father says ‘it won’t be fine,’ it’s like everything crashes down on me, because I know that voice. I wanted to read more in class, so we could discuss it.”

“You can’t take Jeremy seriously, or at least you can’t let him distract you from best practices,” commented Hilda Moran, a literacy coach who had started to observe the literature classes at the school. “He’s obviously from an educated family, so he’ll read books like this on his own. It’s the other kids we’ve got to worry about. That’s why we’ll be installing the software next week.”

“I’m glad we’re ditching that book,” concurred Betty Neznam, Jeremy’s classmate. “I totally could not relate to it. I didn’t even get past the first sentence. ‘Up with the lark?’ Who talks like that? Why are they making us read this stuff? I mean, I’ve got more important things to do. I’m down with skills, though. I know I need skills.”

If the renegade teacher complies with the mandates, uses the software in every lesson, and abandons all discussion of literature, there will be no further disciplinary actions taken against her, Billiard said. “We’re about goodwill here. We recognize that teachers can change. But she’s got to start doing what works.”

Testing official Vance Verveen noted that, according to readability formulas, To the Lighthouse scored well above the post-college-graduate level. “We’re all for challenge,” he said, “but this was beyond the pale. You can see for yourself,” he added, displaying an interface on a screen and pasting in the novel’s second paragraph. “You see that the Flesch-Kincaid grade level—which is research-based, mind you—comes to 26.7. Twenty-six point seven! And we’ve got kids three years behind grade level. Granted, it’s an honors class, and those kids are more advanced, but still, they’ve got to be made to feel successful. That’s what our tests are for. I wouldn’t feel successful if someone made me read that.”

To feel successful, according to Verveen, students should take daily multiple-choice tests at their current level, which gradually increases as they practice the requisite skills. “You’ve got to let them know that they’re good at what they know how to do,” he said. “That’s the ultimate message. Then you coax them into doing just a little more, and a little more. Little steps toward big gains,” he said, patting his pocket. “Little steps.”

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  1. Good grief. That’s my first thought. Other thoughts: The Peter Principle is alive and well in Minnesota. The teacher should have assigned “Catch 22.” Virginia Woolf would walk into the river and drown herself a second time if that were possible. Assign only postmodern texts as they’re the only books that make sense in such a senseless educational world.

    “Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.” –Virginia Woolf

    • Thanks for the comment! I hope it’s clear that this is satire. I realize that it isn’t always easy to tell what’s satire and what isn’t… On this blog, if you aren’t sure, you can check by following the link to the satirical posts.

      • Actually, I did not realize the post is satirical. Given what’s happening in ed these days, the post reads like a real news report. There is a raging debate about whether or not teachers should assign any whole-class novels, and as many are conditioned to subject students to mind-numbing test prep, well, this too seems quite plausible. In my own school, we’ll have no access to any labs or the media center for five weeks to accommodate the mandated testing, and we have a bond next month that’s being sold on the idea of funding “assessment,” which is the second and third bullet point on the flyer my district is distributing.

        A friend sent your blog to me, and I’m quite certain she, too, believed it to be a true story. I only saw the “satire” tag after you mentioned it, and on my screen it’s a very light gray.

        Anyway, I still love the post and will definitely share it w/ my students and include a discussion about how satire isn’t always obvious when it has so much truth to it! 🙂

      • Thank you! I just didn’t want to mislead. This has happened quite a few times before…

        Yes, it is plausible.

  2. “Plausible” isn’t quite the word I had in mind. As a retired teacher, I believed every word of it and was thanking God I got out when I did. I’m still doing that, but my sigh of relief is for a different reason now.

    • Indeed. I have six years left. I’m not sure I’ll last until the final bell. Back in 2005, my principal accused me of teaching a “profane article” after a parent complained about the “The Things They Carried.” The accusation came via an email during the summer while I was at a symposium at the National Humanities Center. I played dumb in my response, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. I wanted him to name said “profane article,” but he couldn’t/wouldn’t. Ultimately, I confronted him, contract and union rep in tow. Here’s the kicker: The kid loved the piece and tried to discuss it w/ his parents. And I had permission from this same principal to teach the piece.

  3. Here is something that is not satire: English teachers in my district were instructed by the head of their department to not use novels. Instead they were to only use the anthology. They were allowed one novel a year. Guess what sparked the most interest, the best comments, the most insightful writing? The novel. The thing they weren’t supposed to focus on.

  4. Man oh man, this is great stuff. We’ve got the software thing in full swing here along with enough daily and weekly assessments to sink a ship. Satire, yes, but so close to what is actually happening that it’s hard to distinguish.

  5. Bill Morrison

     /  February 25, 2013

    To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, “Let them read comic books!” That superintendent is a fool.

  6. This is brilliant, but scarily close to what may very well turn into reality.

  7. A.B.

     /  February 25, 2013

    Geez! This reads like an article from “The Onion”. Frightening.

  8. Romona Thomas

     /  February 25, 2013

    If I didn’t know that it was satire, I could have fully believed it. This is exactly what is happening in our schools.

  9. Diana–

    Found this via Diane Ravitch’s blog, and SO glad I did. I’ll be mentioning it on my blog as well. Priceless! Vonnegut (to say nothing of Orwell) would be proud of you!


  10. CitizensArrest

     /  February 25, 2013

    You’re going to be sued by The Onion. Every time they try to write ed reform satire it sounds too real and falls a bit short, and you’ve eclipsed them here. Can’t wait to read how they describe their own hissy fit about this!

  11. You may recall that Jonathan Kozol was fired for insisting on using a poem by Langston Hughes. Having been an inner city public school teacher, and having been married for 37 years to an woman who just retired from more than 3 decades urban public school teaching, I salute teachers who work hard to make a difference with/for youngsters.

    I also write a weekly newspaper column that reaches up to 650,000 families per week in Minnesota. You can see examples at http://www.hometownsource.com This week I criticize the Academy Awards for making the job of teachers and parents more difficult.

  12. I knew it was satire because ‘testing officials’ are known as Chief Assessment Officers. That was a dead give-away.

  1. Satire: Teacher Reprimanded for Assigning a Book | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Common Core - Page 4

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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