Is non-fiction more important than fiction for students?
I ran across this fascinating article in my Flipboard reading:
by Sara Mosle in the New York Times.
It addresses a standard in the
To meet this standard, a student should be reading 70% non-fiction in school, and 30% fiction.
Naturally, this concerns some people, and the Standards do address some “myths”:
“Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the Common Core ELA Standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.”
I think what they are trying to do is not reduce the amount of fiction being used, but increase the amount of narrative non-fiction.
They specifically say that English Arts teachers don’t need to be using non-fiction.
However, the 70/30 split suggests that reading non-fiction is more important than reading fiction, and the article indicates that is done to better prepare students for the work world.
First, I like non-fiction, and read it a lot…and yes, I did that in elementary school and up through high school (the standards cover K-12…Kindergarten through 12th grade) as well.
Gerald Durrell, for example, was just as interesting a read to me as any fiction.
While reading non-fiction has certainly helped me at work, I have to say…reading fiction helped me just as much.
There are few job where having an understanding of people isn’t a plus, and that’s what reading is at its heart: perceiving things through another person (the author).
I’m a much better employee (and person) for having read Doc Savage, and for that matter, having watched The Lone Ranger.
Presuming that non-fiction somehow better prepares people for being at work seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of how people interact in organizations, in my opinion.
Normal adults are motivated first by social standing when they are at work.
Will people make their best suggestions if making a suggestion gets the boss angry at them? Not often, and not often with good consequences.
I would love kids to read narrative non-fiction along with science textbooks, certainly. Textbooks often strip as much subjectivity out of their contents as they can…which absolutely justified, but makes it harder to engage students.
Narrative non-fiction doesn’t do that. Read Carl Sagan or Jared Diamond or Nate Silver…those are not dry recitations of facts, and the opinions of the authors are clear. You don’t have to agree with them to find it engaging.
I also have to say: how often do you get to read narrative non-fiction at work? What we get at work is often a lot more like those textbooks…stripped down to facts and figures.
I’ve had a great boss who encouraged people to tell stories about what was happening at work in meetings…and that was a valuable tool!
I’m a little concerned that the easiest way for schools to meet this standard will be to reduce the amount of time spent on English. Let’s say that a student is reading, oh, five hundred pages a year of fiction in school. The science teacher, who hasn’t really been assigning narrative non-fiction, comes up with a book that is two hundred pages to teach. Preparing the lesson plan and such will make a two hundred page book a considerable commitment.
With the 70/30 ratio, how many fiction pages does a student get to read if all they get in narrative non-fiction is that two hundred page book? About eighty-six pages.
Want to maintain those 500 pages of fiction (which isn’t much over the course of a school year, depending on the grade)? Assign about 1,230 pages of narrative non-fiction…along with the lab work and so on.
It would seem more logical to me to say that a certain percentage of the time spent in non-English classes be spent reading narrative non-fiction. Why base the amount of narrative non-fiction on the amount of fiction?
I’ve just been accepting as a postulate here that K-12 should be designed to prepare you for college and for the work world…there could be a hearty discussion around that as well.
What do you think? Should the amount of fiction that gets assigned in K-12 be based on the amount of narrative non-fiction that is assigned? How valuable is fiction to a student? Should elementary and high schools be just about preparing people for work and college? Do you think the best employees with whom you’ve worked have been fiction readers, non-fiction readers, non-readers, or a mix?
Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.