Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Jim Murphy Said

It's 7:30 am on the day of my monthly INK contribution and I have just done something for the first time in all the years I've been blogging for INK--I deleted the post I published here several hours ago.

I have been conflicted about writing about the CCSS, which is our theme for this month, since I started to draft my blog entry. That's because I've been conflicted about CCSS since it became a thing. Sure, it's great that awareness of interesting nonfiction is increasing. But teachers and librarians have been using nonfiction in brilliant ways long before committees started presuming they knew better. Wait, let me rephrase that. You see, I started out as an editor in elementary textbook publishing and I learned nearly 30 years ago that standards committees can suck the creativity out of learning, and that education standards are continually changing.

Great teachers are great teachers.

And no, I don't think about curriculum objectives and standards when I decide to write a book about something. (This is a real question I have been asked in many a conference setting.) And I never want to. If my books fit the standards and people find that useful, that is fine by me. Heck, I've even had guides written (thank you brilliant librarians who have helped me do that) so that people can connect my books to the CCSS if they so choose. But that is not a driving force for me as a writer. Passion is. Every time. If the topic is something I can't let go of, if it makes me crazy, or joyful, or outraged, or fascinated, and I just can't wait to immerse myself in the research, to pull it apart and turn it on its head, and make the best sense of it I can as I figure out the world right along with the rest of my fellow humans--that's when I know I want to write a book.

When I visit schools and talk to kids, I always make this point. If they are interested in something, their writing will be interesting. If they are passionate about something, their readers will be engaged. It's not about curriculum objectives. I leave that to the experts.

What was the post I deleted? It was basically about hating the label "informational text." And I do. Because that label steals all the passion from what I spend my life doing. I don't mind reposting that thought. But I deleted the post because I feared it came off as too snarky on a subject respected colleagues (on and off this blog) are writing about with grace.

So I re-read some of this month's CCSS posts and was impressed with all of them. There is valuable information here, which I do not want to tarnish. My original post had called my dear friend Deborah Heiligman's George Clooney and raised her a Robert Downey, Jr., and that part I'll keep! But it was Jim Murphy's post that I nodded my head to at every single sentence and said, yes, that's what I meant. What Jim said. What Jim Murphy said.


Jill Ann Bixel said...

This is so dead on! My husband and I are both teachers, and we keep shaking our heads about all this common core stuff. It's like a bunch of administrators have been sitting around trying to think up labels to fit what we have already been doing for years, and by making us responsible for now documenting that we're doing that, they have added yet another layer of needless work on top of an overwhelming (and wonderful of course) job. Thanks for speaking out about this!

Sue Macy said...

Exactly. It's interesting that Common Core month on I.N.K. seems to be turning into an opportunity for nonfiction authors to declare their independence and celebrate the organic (as Jim said) approach to their work. That in itself should be a lesson for young readers.

Elizabeth Rusch said...


I really hate the term "informational text" too. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard. It makes all nonfiction sound like a shopping list or encyclopedia entry. Sheesh.
Liz Rusch

Unknown said...

You got it right, Tanya! It is only when you leave rules and standards in the dust that art is possible. Ask any fine musician. I wrote about this a little differently on Huff Post this month:

Note that I also referred to Jim's post.

Unknown said...

Wow, my name in the title of a post and in a positive way, which is flattering and very nice. I want to say that I really like the new standards; they seem logical, reasonable and could be a real avenue to help kids think in a broader, more analytical way. I also see them as a way for teachers and librarians, parents and anyone else trying to educate young readers, to focus and direct their instruction efforts. But writing these kinds of books is a completely different process which shouldn't be corraled by rules (even ones, like the CCSS, that seem smartly open to interpretaton). So thank you, Tanya, for saying so clearly and smartly what I think most of us believe in our hearts.