Ditching fiction classics for non-fiction?



I actually did a double take last week when I read an article in The Telegraph that reported most states will soon be dumping fiction literature in favor of non-fiction, science-based books and instruction.

Beloved novels such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Catcher in the Rye” would be replaced with – I kid you not – “Recommended Levels of Insulation” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the “Invasive Plant Inventory,” by California’s Invasive Plant Council.

I like to think I’m a highly educated person, and fairly open to scientific reading, but those books sound ridiculously boring! Imagine what the average high-schooler would think of them.

The new suggested rules come thanks to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a program started by the National Governor’s Association. It was designed to create a set of competitive and standard learning practices throughout the entire country. It will take effect by 2014.

My first reaction was to scoff and poo-poo this change as a misguided attempt by education mucky-mucks in stripping our schoolkids of their imaginative sides. How else are you going to teach English than by reading lots of books? (Although I ended up learning more grammar in my foreign language courses than English class).

My favorite classes were English, literature and language classes. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. I devoured literature. But I know many of my peers were not like me. The more mathematically inclined had problems sometimes interpreting or even completing the readings. I understand literature is not for everyone, but come on! Some books are just too good.

But the next day, I was thinking of the article again. This time the move made more sense.

The changes in school reading lists are to try and narrow that learning gap between American students and those from other nations, especially those in Asia. If we have a knowledge gap in, say, engineering, we need to churn out more engineering students, not liberal arts grads.

Regardless of how you feel on the wisdom of such readings, if students are not involved or interested in their learning, they will start to ignore it. And then we’ll be right back where we started.

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