In response to the discussion about the time allotted to fiction and non-fiction in the Common Core standards, a teacher writes:
One of the things that really bothers me about this mandate is the devaluing of fiction.
Right now we are foolishly engaging in a short-sighted culture of thinking that the only things that matter are “practical” and “measurable”.
Hence, the importance of non-f. Yet, in many ways I have learned more about science, math and history from fiction than I ever did from non-fiction.
Exploring fiction allows readers to imagine themselves as someone else. It teaches them about the world around them and what it means to be a human being. To read things like the Odyssey, even though it is nearly 3000 years old, or the Aeneid, or the plays of Sophocles, or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Shakespeare’s plays, gives students a sense of the timelessness of some questions and traits.
It gives us a gateway into discussing the meaning of honor, virtue, love and other things. It encourages us to ask questions, to explore, to be curious.
It gives us the ability learn from mistakes without damaging consequences. These are skills that are useful in any endeavor in life, from the professional to the personal. To assert that this type of learning is less valuable than learning to decode a non-f text is to assert that the human and idealistic is less valuable.
Moreover, no one can point to where inspiration comes from. Think for example of the role of a calligraphy class in Jobs’ development of the Apple aesthetic.
The skills one learns in working with fiction texts are ones that can be transferred to any area. For example, if one could explore and analyze the meaning of violence in the Aeneid (I’m a Latin teacher, so I tend to cite fiction from my content area) and of Roman culture in general, one can certainly explore and analyze the meaning of violence in our entertainment and our society, a topic particularly relevant in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The deepest thinkers are the ones who can draw from a variety of sources and areas to approach things in new ways; yet, by depriving our students of these rich cultural texts by whittling them down to very small portions, we deprive our students of that deep well.