THE VALUE OF FICTION

We are quickly approaching the start of another school year.  As many of you already know, the Common Core Curriculum was implemented last year.  The first administration of the Common Core Algebra Exam was given in June 2014.  This year, students enrolled in Geometry will be taking the first administration of the Common Core Geometry Exam.  Similar to last year, our students will also be offered the Geometry Regents Exam.  The highest of the two grades will be utilized towards their final and course average.

The English Curriculum has also been revised to meet the standards and requirements of the Common Core Curriculum and assessment.  This September, the Board of Regents is expected to consider and adopt  the Common Core Framework in Social Studies.  As soon as that occurs, the Social Studies curriculum will also be in the process of revision.  What I quickly noticed about the English and Social Studies curriculum is how similar the assessments are.   Emphasis is placed on nonfiction, and students are required to read primary source documents and construct an argument using evidence from these sources.  While this is an important skill that all schools must teach, the importance placed on the skill of interpretation and argument leaves certain gaps in student’s thinking and skill development.  First, writing to argue is just one among many types of writing.  Without a doubt, taking a position on an issue, developing an argument, and using evidence to support this position is an important writing skill we all use in real life.  At the same time, there are other types of writing from which students gain other types of experiences and knowledge.  For example, writing in the first person or a poem or a short story is also a worthy endeavor.  The lack of variety required on written portions of the state assessments are concerning since there is no reason to replicate the same written skill on two different exams (English Language Arts and Social Studies).

Second, the ratio of nonfiction to fiction reading required on the Common Core English Exam is 75% to 25%.  Since the Social Studies Framework already requires 100% nonfiction reading, the overemphasis on nonfiction reading in a student’s academic experience is of concern.  Great novels are labeled “great” since they carry and transmit certain themes, values, and messages about a culture.  Fiction allows the exploration of themes in a noncontroversial and less threatening manner.   Aristophanes’ comedies, for instance, contain critical political and social lessons that are written within the lines spoken by various characters.  Although the references are inferred, the parody about Athenian culture does have a real message.  A more recent example, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., takes a critical look at post-war American society.  While these are examples of fiction, the themes and messages are nonfictional and can be applied to real life.  Great fiction does have real-world application, and depending on a student’s learning style, the message delivered through a fictional approach may have more of an impact than the one stated by a nonfictional perspective.  Apparently, there are scientific benefits to reading fiction.  A recent study indicates that reading improves brain functions.  The article can be accessed here.  A video on this same topic can be viewed below:

While I do applaud the inclusion of additional nonfiction work in the English Curriculum, we must not lose sight of what great novels generate in us and our students: wonder, inspiration, creativity, inspiration, sadness, happiness, and many other feelings and emotions.  As a society, we also place value on empathy and sympathy.  Fiction provides us with a certain perspective that nonfiction will never be able to capture.  Hopefully, this overemphasis on nonfiction will be reconsidered and a more appropriate balance between fiction and nonfiction will be restored.

In the meantime, our teachers and staff will do their best in preparing students for the new assessments while providing learning experiences that are meaningful.  I look forward to welcoming students, parents, and staff to the start of another great year.