New education standards are hitting schools across America. They’re replacing traditional fictional texts with an increased emphasis on nonfiction. From The Telegraph (click here to read the whole article):
A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.
Books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards.
I understand this impulse. Many are concerned that we keep up with the rest of the world in our technical expertise. This means children must develop technical skills. In this context, reading fiction seems trivial.
Except, gaining technical expertise should not be the purpose (or at least, the sole purpose) of educating our youth. Traditionally, young people were taught many necessary skills, but they were also taught how to think. They were taught how to be good citizens. They were taught honor, virtue, independent thinking. It is these ends that are served by To Kill a Mockingbird. No insulation manual can teach virtue.
The article quotes an Arkansas junior high school teacher who sums it up nicely:
“I’m afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes.
“In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?”
Preparing young people for the workplace is important, but education must go beyond that. After all, what good is a productive society without good citizens? Without a virtuous, thoughtful citizenry, it will not remain productive long, no matter how much technical training they receive.
I would suggest an alternative solution: Stop pressuring every high school graduate to go on to a four year typical college. Encourage the new graduates to pursue practical degrees in technical schools and community colleges. Let them dig deep into improving their skill sets right away. Then we won’t have to be so fixated on the workplace when they’re younger.
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