3 Dec

Joel Stein wrote an article decrying the imminent demise of literature under the new Common Core Standards.  His argument seems to be that the new standards throw out most of fiction in favor of dry, dusty tombs of informational reports.

Some of his article hit home.  “Fiction also teaches you how to tell a story,” Stein writes, “which is how we express and remember nearly everything.”  Later on he writes, “School isn’t merely training for work; it’s training to communicate throughout our lives.”  Amen!  Too true!  My problem with Stein’s article is that his love-affair with fiction seems to be blinding him to non-fiction.

Non-fiction teaches us how to communicate.  Organization and persuasive reasoning are not only key to reading and writing, they’re key to communicating in life.  Listen to a student who hasn’t yet learned how to do this.  As he gets to the five minute mark with no point or cohesion in sight, you’ll know what I mean.

Non-fiction tells a story.  I was obsessed by The Emperor of All Maladies and Steve Jobs (amazing books, go read them) when I  read them, and not because I’m all that interested in cancer or technology, but because of the story the authors told.

Non-fiction can be beautifully written.  There’s a reason we still get chills when we listen to MLK’s I Have a Dream speech or The Ghettysburg Address. Those speeches are far more deliberately crafted than much of the drivel of fiction that invade our bookstores.

Don’t get me wrong, I love fiction.  I talk about books all the time.  But we have often taught non-fiction as a vehicle for delivering information, rather than a craft and technique in itself, and that’s a shame.  We can be dragged into this change by the Common Core, or we can embrace the possibilities it brings.

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