Academic journal article English Education

The Value of English: Perspectives on the Economic Benefits of Studying English in High School

Academic journal article English Education

The Value of English: Perspectives on the Economic Benefits of Studying English in High School

Article excerpt

It is rare in a working environment that someone says, "Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood. "

-Common Core State Standards architect David Coleman, explaining why he wants English classes to emphasize analytical writing over personal writing (quoted in Shannon, 2014, p. 100)

David Coleman's remarks about writing pedagogy and workplace demands ratify a popular argument that says K-12 schools in the United States are not doing enough to prepare students for the world of work; therefore, school subjects must be rebuilt around standards keyed to the demands of higher education and the workplace. Recently, this idea was ratified in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which "focusejs] on the clear goal of fully preparing all students for success in college and careers" (Every Student Succeeds Act Overview, 2016). Given ESSA's focus, college and career preparation will likely remain a major goal for U.S. schools for some time to come, even in a post-Common Core landscape.

In the held of English education, some teachers and researchers rej ect the idea that curricula should be aligned more closely with the workplace. For instance, Bill Tucker (2011) argues that K-12 schools' emphasis on future careers undermines efforts to address students' current concerns. In English language arts (ELA) classrooms, Tucker writes, the discourse of college and career is "a discourse of a 'dream deferred'" (p. 115). By downplaying students' present interests and emphasizing the demands of the adult world, this discourse "distorts our vision of literacy and disheartens the students we actually teach" (p. 116). Other teachers and researchers, meanwhile, accept workforce training as a legitimate goal but see standardized learning as a poor match for an economy driven more and more by nonstandard knowledge. Developing this idea, Kylene Beers (2010) argues, "One way we rebuild a strong economy is to educate students so they are able to do this creative-innovative-work" (p. 350; emphasis in original). In English education, then, there are different views of the argument that school subjects should be aligned more closely with the economy.

Despite past and present efforts to tighten the connections between ELA and the world of work, little research exists on the relationship between the two fields. Few studies focus on the co-evolution of ELA and the economy or identify different views of what economic benefits, if any, English classes should deliver to students.1 Lacking information on this matter, those concerned about the direction of ELA are underprepared to support, alter, or oppose the field's closer articulation with the economy. To address this gap, we-English teachers turned academic researchers-built the present study around the question, "What are different perspectives on the economic benefits of studying ELA in the United States' high schools?"2 Although we are currently posing this question to additional groups (e.g., high school teachers and businesspeople), we first surveyed professors of English education and asked them about their views of ELA's economic mission. Because professors of English education are tasked with clarifying and explaining to new teachers ELA's disparate purposes, we reasoned, it made sense to survey professors in our initial foray into this investigation. Furthermore, we thought English Education's audience could benefit from situating their stances with respect to the field's economic mission within (or against) their colleagues' beliefs.

This article proceeds as follows. First, we review literatures on the economic dimensions of public K-12 schools and ELA. In this review, we describe different perspectives on ELA's economic benefits. Next, we explain our methods for recruiting survey respondents and gathering and analyzing data. We then present our findings. Finally, we look back over our study and discuss what it reveals about competing visions of ELA and the economy. …

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