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This guy's interpretation of the demands of the future workplace is every bit as myopic and hilariously dumb as his counterpart in the fifities insisting that every school needed to concentrate on turning out fewer critical thinkers and more tool-and-die makers.
Posted by Proteus on December 4, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
leek 2
A couple of things:

First of all, the percentage figures include reading done in all classes, not just English classes. Given that most of what students will be reading in history, science, civics, etc. etc. classes will be informational texts, that leaves in fact quite a lot of room for fiction in the English classroom.

See "Shared responsibility for students' literary development" on this page:…

Second, one of the categories of informational text that is getting the most attention in the Common Core standards is "literary nonfiction," which includes a lot of genres that have literary structures in them, like autobiographies, biographies, and essays.

Check out the right column in the table on this page:…

In short, you may be worrying too much.
Posted by leek on December 4, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Look at what works in Finland:

More funding. Teachers make more than doctors. Less tests.

Repeat that. Everything else doesn't work.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 4, 2012 at 12:55 PM · Report this
Eviedentially 4
Well, there is some evidence about the effect of fiction on the brain:…
Posted by Eviedentially on December 4, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Report this
AmyC 5
You make a good point, Paul, about fiction placing us into the shoes of others. And that's a very important experience for a child. But what sparked MY imagination most as a child was nonfiction. Science, particularly. Yeah, I wondered what the fuck little Laura Ingalls would DO on a Sunday afternoon since the baby jeesus wouldn't allow her to play with her blocks, or whatever, but what totally got my brain going was fucking physics. Would it be possible to find a way to go in the exact direction of the wind, at the exact speed? What would that feel like? Would it be like nothingness? Would you BECOME nothingness? (I wondered these two things, about the wind and Laura Ingalls, on the same afternoon when I was a kid. I spent way more time wondering about the wind. Got on my bike to see if I could create that environment for myself. And I was no kind of science whiz. But written well, I think it can be facinating for everybody.)
I think this development is probably OK.
Posted by AmyC on December 4, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Report this
michaelp 6
@2 - I'm not so sure he's worrying too much.

During parent/teacher conference with my 4th grade daughter's teacher, I was informed that her out of school reading should be 50% non-fiction, and not necessarily biographical.

My daughter loves fiction. She thoroughly enjoys reading and writing about made up places and things, and that is behavior I have long encouraged. i wholeheartedly believe that we shouldn't be raising robots, but humans, and imagination is a central part of humanity.

Unfortunately, the love of money, and perpetuating the belief that things are better than experiences, is aiming to ruin a generation of kids.
Posted by michaelp on December 4, 2012 at 12:58 PM · Report this
Puty 7
Write a huuuuuge feature on this!
Posted by Puty on December 4, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Fiction is fantastic, but fiction as taught in school is TERRIBLE. The way schools teach novels: weeks of deep analysis per book in order to dig up 'themes' that sometimes aren't even actually there, just so the students can write essays and midterms (got to be quantified) about the book makes kids hate books. Kids that don't read novels don't because they're taught that reading novels means scrawling dozens of notes on every page and reading a book per month pace. Schools turn reading fiction into tedious, frustrating labor. Zach Weiner at SMBC nails it as always:…
Posted by algorhythm99 on December 4, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Report this
leek 9
I also think that, as poorly as it's worded, what Coleman says is true: to be prepared for success in college or careers, students will not necessarily need to know how to WRITE fiction. And if they need to write about what they think or feel, it really will be an important factor that they're able to explain the reasons behind it.

That doesn't mean that it's useless to have students writing fiction, but it will probably be more useful to them to be able to think and write critically about the fiction, literary nonfiction, or other nonfiction they read. Hell, I have two degrees in English and I can't remember a single non-creative-writing class that ever asked me to produce a piece of fiction that didn't include reasons for why I was writing it or what its significance was.
Posted by leek on December 4, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Report this
leek 10
michaelp, that sucks. Common Core standards don't suggest anything for out-of-the-classroom reading, nor should they (I believe).
Posted by leek on December 4, 2012 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 11
And if that's true, I'd say we're probably doomed.

Do you have any verifiable evidence for this conclusion?

Hey, I had to take the shot. It was too obvious. That being said, I think the problem is a kind of 'all-or-nothing' type thinking. I agree wholeheartedly w/ Paul about the importance of reading fiction. But that doesn't mean that non-fiction shouldn't also be taught. I had no experience of non-fiction at my public school, except for shows like Nova & Life on Earth, which were awesome. They are not mutually exclusive, and I think the 'well-rounded individual' goal for education is the best approach, which includes all kinds of writing.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on December 4, 2012 at 1:12 PM · Report this
Puty 12
The total ignorance of the value of everything that isn't easily quantifiable reminds me of a book I read in elementary school: Luke Baldwin's Vow by Canadian author Morley Callaghan. It's about a kid who's sent to live on the farm with his "practical" uncle Henry after his father dies. Uncle Henry won't recognize the value of anything that can't be measured or weighed. When this reprehensible piece of shit makes up his mind to drown Luke's dog because it's old, blind and allegedly useless, Luke, um, makes a vow. Good book, and so very anger-making!
Posted by Puty on December 4, 2012 at 1:13 PM · Report this
@8 - Absolutely right. And @6 - push back against your daughter's teacher, who is simply parroting a playbook (see what the wrong kind of reading does? It breeds and perpetuates the wrong kind of thinking.)

Back to @8: Yes, it's the teaching that sucks, or perhaps the teaching prescription adopted without thought by the rule-followers of the world, who can't cope with ambiguity. When you train juveniles to approach works of fiction as juvenile critics disassembling a gadget, you're likely to produce juvenile criticism.
Posted by Relling on December 4, 2012 at 1:15 PM · Report this
Puty 14
Also, an obvious point: who says kids don't learn critical thinking from fiction? CHRIST.
Posted by Puty on December 4, 2012 at 1:15 PM · Report this
seandr 15
the problem is that there's no way to quantify how important it is

@4 Beat me too it. Turns out cognitive neuroscience has begun to do just that.

That same NY Times article convinced me to start reading fiction again after a two year slump.

That said, I think it makes sense to focus on nonfiction when it comes to writing. Fiction writing is an art, just like painting, dance, and guitar playing, and as such, its applications are limited. The writing that 99.9999% of us do is entirely expository, and doing that well is hard enough as it is to teach.
Posted by seandr on December 4, 2012 at 1:16 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 16
Don't knock nonfiction. It's not all Gladwell and Levitt. I wish I'd been exposed to more essays and biographies and such in high school.

Still, I don't see how nonfiction would have prepared me to create a market analysis in an imaginary fifties office any more than fiction did. And if you want to learn to "make an argument with evidence," writing is far more important than reading. Learning that from reading is as unlikely as learning to act by watching a play.
Posted by Free Lunch on December 4, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
I agree with @2 and @5. Bear in mind that Angela's Ashes is a nonfiction book. I'm not a fan of the emphasis on STEM over humanities, but you can design a perfectly good curriculum with 50% nonfiction (and a horrid curriculum with any amount of fiction). The quality of the overall curriculum is the issue, not the amount of fiction (I grant that it would be hard to design a good curriculum with minimal fiction, but 50% seems like plenty).
Posted by minderbender on December 4, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
@9 Is he talking about fiction? He says no one cares about what you think or feel or being able to "...write a compelling account of your childhood." That's not talking about fiction, that's talking about writing technical, mundane, day to day writing. Exactly the type of quantification-based education Constant is worried about.
Posted by kersy on December 4, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
sikandro 19
I'm with @9. Studying fiction usually goes hand in hand with learning how to analyze texts and how to communicate clearly, with innovative arguments, about those texts. Clear communication, ability to analyze quickly and accurately, knowledge of other peoples desires and how they will approach a product--all of that is critical for business.
Posted by sikandro on December 4, 2012 at 1:22 PM · Report this
To be fair, the Common Core standards are talking about text across the curriculum, not just English/language arts. Those percentages make more sense when you consider social studies, science etc texts as part of the whole equation. It doesn't necessarily reduce the amount of fiction consumed, it just sets requirements for literacy across the curriculum. But agreed, as far as boooo to treating schools as factories to make workers.
Posted by muffin on December 4, 2012 at 1:26 PM · Report this
@6/michael p:
Time to find your daughter a new school. If your FOURTH GRADE daughter has a wonderful imagination and learns through it, she has the basic building block of a lifelong learner. There will be time for non-fiction and she will find a way to make that, too, sing when she is ready.

Or perhaps this teacher is trying to prepare your daughter to be a life-long widget maker, able to read and report on any instruction manual she comes across.

Your comment about this teacher is the saddest school report I've heard in ages. Move her. Tell your fellow parents why. Tell the principal why. Start a community discussion. Others will be outraged too. Maybe even push back.
Posted by gator bait on December 4, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
michaelp 22
@13 - Oh, there's what Seattle Public Schools want, and there's what I'm going to do. I work in a world where I get to weave bullshit into silk with words (admittedly not that well). I would never deprive my daughter the same ability to expand her skill set. She'll get some non-fiction books for the holiday season, but she'll mostly get books she's asking for :-)

Reading is cool!
Posted by michaelp on December 4, 2012 at 1:28 PM · Report this
@15 - absolutely, because there's obviously no deductive reasoning, decision making, critical analysis, or geometry involved in fiction. One certainly doesn't need to conduct historical, scientific, or sociological research to write good fiction. No sir, it's an art that flows directly from the muse onto the paper.

I'm not going to waste another sentence defending fiction, because the evidence of how important it is surrounds us every day, even if it's clear most people take it for granted. There is no more surefire way of creating bright, curious-minded kids than getting them interested in reading fiction as early as possible. Don't worry, they can still grow up to be STEM-minded chucklefucks just like every other jackass on the internet who doesn't have a 'worthless degree', but at least they won't be as tedious to talk to at parties.

Posted by johnjjeeves on December 4, 2012 at 1:30 PM · Report this
It's more "spoon feed information and take away critical thinking" ideas that are creating students who can't work their way out of a paper bag without instructions. It tends to stifle questioning what you've read and instead pushes blind acceptance of everything thrown at you to be "fact" whether it is or not. While I agree with Paul's points, I think it's important to read something where you have to sift out the substantive from the extraneous and be able to analyze and clearly communicate what you think is there. Similarly, identifying themes is much like seeing trends, which young workers also don't do well these days. Reading and learning through fiction does all of that better than non-fiction. Ask successful entrepreneurs what they read most in their youth. I'll bet it was heavy on the fiction....
Posted by lawgeek on December 4, 2012 at 1:31 PM · Report this
DavidC 25
The 'fiction' that was forced upon us in school (Canada) was brutal. Horrible depressing 'stories' about how difficult life was in rural 19th century Canada. No thanks. More math & science would be a good thing.
Posted by DavidC on December 4, 2012 at 1:34 PM · Report this
treacle 26
Soo... he asks "can you make an argument with evidence"...

..and then goes on to illuminate his position with a strawman fallacy.
Well then.
Posted by treacle on December 4, 2012 at 1:35 PM · Report this
@5 I also loved reading about science as a kid and that's why I'm in STEM! But I also heavily explored it through the fiction of sci-fi. I learned it through story games on the computer. I felt it by playing the violin. Science requires us to look beyond what is right in front of us. Beyond what we are taught in school and the formulas on the page. How can we do that if we are not able to journey beyond our immediate possibilities?

Aside from the metaphors. I write and read a shitton of technical writing and you can absolutely tell the people who did not spend a lot of time writing about boring "thinking and feeling" shit in highschool - they have the most soulless, uninspired, passionless writing style. I want to take them to an art museum and sit them in front of a jackson pollock for a day.
Posted by kersy on December 4, 2012 at 1:36 PM · Report this
I'm a high school teacher. I teach a lot of fiction. But growing up, most of the fiction I read consisted of novels or short stories that I found by myself, outside of the classroom. British, American and World lit classes will always be with us. So will kids going blind reading genre novels in dark bedrooms long after the lights go out.
Posted by Clayton on December 4, 2012 at 1:39 PM · Report this
@6: I hope your answer was something about what your kid does outside of school being none of that teacher's goddamn business.
Posted by pox on December 4, 2012 at 1:40 PM · Report this
McJulie 30
@2: It's obvious, these people are pulling a Harrison Bergeron and trying to make sure that strong readers who prefer fiction don't have an unfair advantage over weaker readers!

Nonfiction includes everything from cookbooks to Ann Coulter, while fiction includes works such as Flatland. It's a mistake to just assume you learn more from nonfiction just because it's purportedly factual.
Posted by McJulie on December 4, 2012 at 1:42 PM · Report this
McJulie 31
Uh, I meant @6, sorry.
Posted by McJulie on December 4, 2012 at 1:45 PM · Report this
#6: Please out the school where this happened. Want to strike it from our enrollment possibilities for next year.
Posted by Roses on December 4, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 33
What's infuriating to me is that history classes in college frequently assign fiction books contemporary to that period. I had one history class that was entirely literature, about half philosophy, half fiction. Most of my history courses (and I was a history major) included at least one novel as part of the curriculum.

Fiction is fun to read. It engages the students more than dry textbooks, and it teaches us a great deal about the time period in which those novels were written. Things Fall Apart can teach students more about the colonization of Africa than a dozen textbooks.

David Coleman is a fucking asshole.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 4, 2012 at 1:52 PM · Report this
leek 34
I don't think anyone here or in the Common Core standards claimed people learn "more" from nonfiction. I think the idea was that students should get a variety of texts. While I've read most of the Common Core ELA documents, I haven't read the research the CC team used. However, I gather that the supposed reason for this change is that students were arriving at college unprepared to deal with informational text. I mean, we don't have to believe them, I guess. But that's what they say.
Posted by leek on December 4, 2012 at 1:56 PM · Report this
leek 35
Once again, just so we're yelling at Coleman for the right reason, that excerpt is about WRITING. Not reading.

I'm feeling like quite the apologist now.
Posted by leek on December 4, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
Fiction is great, so here's some good news - it isn't being banned. It is being balanced with the kind of reading and writing that is required to do college level work and be employable in most middle class jobs. Please realize that claiming education should be ONLY about feeling and exploring and having fun is a huge disservice to students in poverty who are actually relying on their education to escape that poverty. You think you are protecting them from mean robotic teaching, when in fact you are shackling them to low skills, low wage jobs. If you think limiting fiction to 50% of academic reading is a tragedy, you need some more exposure to tragedy.
Posted by Kiznit on December 4, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
Pick1 37
@8 I understand this to an extent but analyzing fiction for it's deeper meaning can be very important. Learning about the significance of Animal Farm and its history makes the book utterly fascinating.

Other times, spending weeks on a book that isn't necessarily enjoyable is torturous.

It's a fine line to walk.
Posted by Pick1 on December 4, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
Estey 38
Off topic, "‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’" is my favorite sentence of the day.
Posted by Estey on December 4, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
mkyorai 39
Pity we can't categorize the Bible as fiction and then tell parents their kid should be reading less of it. I'd love to see a good educational martinet vs. jeebus wackadoodle rumble.
Posted by mkyorai on December 4, 2012 at 2:12 PM · Report this
You are absolutely right that most of the reading students do in classes other than English is non-fiction. But the thing is that I think the Common Core is talking about reading beyond what is in textbooks (and what the goddamned standardized tests are based upon). Teachers are so busy making sure their students make adequate yearly progress on the goddamned standardized tests, that they can't present writings by Socrates or Plato in Western Civ., or Pythagoras in Geometry, or Darwin in Biology. The burden will fall on English teachers, especially in middle and high school.

And, as someone pointed out (and as I can verify as a former English teacher), the way we teach literature in schools is awful. Part of it is because the curriculum expects us to teach certain themes and ideas for each novel we teach, even though those themes or ideas are sometimes not relevant to the work or sometimes a real stretch to find. I sometimes wonder if the people who wrote the curricula that are in common use actually got their degrees in literature.

Oh, and sometimes the "innovations" that teachers try are truly awful. My senior year, my English teacher decided on a whim that we were going to spend months on Hamlet. We literally spent from November until March studying Hamlet. We did a ton of completely pointless activities, we read it out loud, we listened to a record of it being performed (late 80s and really old English teacher)...I could go on. It didn't make me hate the play or Shakespeare, but it came close.

In an ideal world, we would be doing more cross-curricular instruction. When studying the Ancient Greeks, for instance, a student might be reading The Odyssey in English, studying the works of Socrates in Social Studies, learning about Euclid and Pythagoras in Math, and learnign about Archimedes or Hippocrates in Science. Students are then getting both fiction (well, poetry) and non-fiction, and are integrating the cultural time period from multiple perspectives.
Posted by Sheryl on December 4, 2012 at 2:16 PM · Report this
I would like to see the whole context of Coleman's remarks, though, to see if he was, indeed, talking about writing. But I think the assumption he is making is that you learn how to write by emulating what you read. While good writers have to be readers, I don't think that is how you learn to construct a solid, original argument. That is how you learn to mimic someone else's voice, and that is never good writing.
Posted by Sheryl on December 4, 2012 at 2:19 PM · Report this
One last thing (sorry for multiple posts - my brain is on slow today...), if an English teacher is assigning essays that only ask how a student feels about a work of literature, he or she is doing it wrong. Literature response essays should be about asserting a thesis and finding evidence in the work to support it. Even if the question the teacher asks is about a character's emotional state, any assertion the student makes should be supported by evidence. That is a skill that carries over to other areas of the curriculum.
Posted by Sheryl on December 4, 2012 at 2:22 PM · Report this
I love how these technocrats never bother questioning whether the society needs to change. It's always about how to churn out more cogs to fit into their horribly sociopathic vision of "adulthood".
Posted by Tent_Liberation_Army on December 4, 2012 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Where's E. D. Hirsch when you need him?
Posted by K on December 4, 2012 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 45

Interesting, because just last week I felt so supersaturated by the "real world" that I bought a few non-fiction Kindle books to see what the modern literary mind is up to.

One of my better finds is "Grub", an Elise Blackwell novel about a bunch of 20 somethings living in New York who are all writers themselves.…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 4, 2012 at 3:10 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 46

Derp. Make that "bought...fiction"
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 4, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
AmyC 47
@ 38 and @39 - THIS sentence just made MY day! "I'd love to see a good educational martinet vs. jeebus wackadoodle rumble."

Still giggling. :)
Posted by AmyC on December 4, 2012 at 3:20 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 48
@ 33, that was my experience, too. Heck - we were even assigned Time and Again by Jack Finney (published in the early 70s) for my late 19th Century American History class, because it accurately described 1880s NYC.

Good fiction will absolutely do a better job conveying time and place than most history texts (even ones that are well written). And that isn't the only field where that's the case. Einstein's Dreams helped me understand what exactly Einstein's theories imply, for example.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 4, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
While I basically agree with the argument that fiction helps us imagine ourselves in other peoples' shoes, I'd go a step further. Fiction is about problems and how people solve them. One of the ways that people get better at solving problems is by imagining the points of view of people with competing interests. Fiction trains us how to think about problems multi-dimensionally. An exec sitting among a dozen people with conflicting agendas in a board room is going to be more effective if he or she is capable of seeing a problem from their various perspectives. And anyone who smirks at the value of emotional intelligence in a workplace is at a severe disadvantage. Work environments are roiling with emotions and those who can understand them can become really successful.
Posted by Ryan Boudinot on December 4, 2012 at 3:39 PM · Report this
Actually, my observation has been that our schools assign fiction almost exclusively.

If you review the approved texts for high school language arts classes in Seattle Public Schools you will see that they are almost all fiction.

What's this guy talking about?
Posted by Charlie Mas on December 4, 2012 at 3:59 PM · Report this
@36 is right. This is a first-world problem and we've got plenty of third-world schools in this country.
Posted by sarah70 on December 4, 2012 at 4:06 PM · Report this
I agree that fiction is important, but I do not think that Mr. Constant is right about why it's being downplayed.

Art, including fiction writing, is being downplayed because the students aren't learning the basics of reading, writing (composition), math, and science that they need to be adults in the modern world. The purpose of the public school system is to produce adults who can use their votes responsibly. For that, they need to be able to read newspapers, understand science, and I'd add history to my core list.

As to why the students aren't learning the way they used to, that's a whole other argument. But the bottom line is this: Any shortfall made by the schools with respect to enrichment subjects like art, fiction and some science can and should be made up by the parents. Take the kid to the children's museum. Read Harry Potter when they're young and read Pride and Prejudice together when they're older. Do family art projects. Of course, that requires that the parents 1. not have to work more than two jobs so that they actually have time to spend with their kids and 2. be WILLING to spend said time with their kids.
Posted by DRF on December 4, 2012 at 4:12 PM · Report this
Necessary addendum: 3. The parents have to either know enough about the subject themselves to be able to provide some instruction or be willing to go the extra mile to find a place or program that can do so, like a children's tour for an art museum.
Posted by DRF on December 4, 2012 at 4:14 PM · Report this
Over at the Seattle Schools Community forum blog, we wrote abou tthis isssue recently based on an op-ed in the NY Times (…) by Sara Mosle.

Common Core is also leaning towards more non-fiction (not necessarily a bad thing).

"For example, the Common Core dictates that by fourth grade, public school students devote half of their reading time in class to historical documents, scientific tracts, maps and other “informational texts” — like recipes and train schedules. Per the guidelines, 70 percent of the 12th grade curriculum will consist of nonfiction titles.

Alarmed English teachers worry we’re about to toss Shakespeare so students can study, in the words of one former educator, “memos, technical manuals and menus.”

What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.

In addition to a biology textbook, for example, why can’t more high school students read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”?"

What should students read in order to learn to write?
Posted by westello on December 4, 2012 at 4:20 PM · Report this
cedarthvader 55
I'm starting to think those home school nuts aren't total nuts after all.
Posted by cedarthvader on December 4, 2012 at 4:37 PM · Report this
@50 Not if textbooks count as non-fiction. Children read far more non-fiction than fiction in schools. Only English and literature classes assign more fiction than non-fiction.
Posted by DRF on December 4, 2012 at 4:42 PM · Report this
He stole the common core name from my old school the University of Chicago. It's a better idea over there. Give it back and take your cultural myopia elsewhere!
Posted by bozbozeman on December 4, 2012 at 5:18 PM · Report this
kim in portland 61
I'm thankful my kids chose the International Baccularate (IB) program; IB has a rich literature tradition to balance all the research and nonfiction. It is a lot of work, but getting to read some of their essays before being sent off to Wales is fascinating and proves that they both know how to write. The merit based scholarships being offered to our eldest are a plus as the acceptance packets start arriving.
Posted by kim in portland on December 4, 2012 at 5:36 PM · Report this
McJulie 62
"What they instead care about is, can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me?"

Which, interestingly enough, is exactly what I had to do in pretty much every English lit paper I ever wrote.

"Compelling account of your childhood" is what the people in the "narrative nonfiction" class were writing.
Posted by McJulie on December 4, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Report this
Knat 63
"What [people] instead care about is, can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me?"

If only we could apply such logic to science classrooms in public schools.

Also, michaelp, did the words "twiddler", "dreamer", or "silly-heart" come up during this parent-teacher conference?
Posted by Knat on December 4, 2012 at 5:48 PM · Report this
As many have said, fiction is art. Art teaches in ways that the concrete can't. Children should learn both. Adults should embrace both.
Posted by CbytheSea on December 4, 2012 at 9:56 PM · Report this
Look, of course it's quantifiable how studying fiction can help with shitty business jobs. Learning to structure a narrative teaches you how to build a story your customer will buy. Learning to analyze a narrative teaches you how to understand the story you're being sold. Imagining yourself in someone else's shoes teaches you to communicate and negotiate. Stop hand-waving about "art" and make your damn objective argument. If you can't do that, you're a terrible advertisement for what you're claiming.
Posted by rca on December 5, 2012 at 9:25 AM · Report this
So, I spent three years grading the written work of UW students in the social sciences. I agree with Coleman 100%, (the fact that he's arguably an asshole is irrelevant). Again: we're talking about writing here, not reading.

Almost ALL my first and second year students were unable to write a decent essay appropriate for a social science context. They overwhelmingly resulted to this absurd format they had beaten into them by their high school English teachers... and sorry, but trying to make an argument about the relationship between development and democracy isn't the same thing as writing about how Jim Casey was a metaphorical Christ figure in the Grapes of Wrath.

One (when done well) requires a careful weighing of evidence and the ability to look at the logical implications of proposed causal mechanisms. The other, as taught in high school, requires cherrypicking quotes and passages and presenting them as if that is evidence. Hell, one kind of writing should almost never include quotations!

Sure, kids sure learn fiction. Kids should also learn to write a fucking essay in a manner beyond what is taught to them by their (alas, almost universally incompetent) English teachers.
Posted by Madasshatter on December 5, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
McJulie 68
@66 : pretty much.
@67 : trying to make an argument about the relationship between development and democracy isn't the same thing as writing about how Jim Casey was a metaphorical Christ figure in the Grapes of Wrath

Not exactly the same, but I still think they're pretty close if you define the process as 1. analyze the material, 2. pick a relevant topic, 3. write a coherent essay using evidence from the material. Sure, the process is tweaked as you move from one discipline to another. But if students aren't learning how to write a decent social science essay, the solution is to teach them how to write a decent social science essay. Coleman's solution sounds more like teaching them to write the same bad English lit essays, only about nonfiction instead of fiction.

Anyway, modern politics ought to prove that "cherrypicking quotes and passages and presenting them as if that is evidence" is not a problem in any way limited to English lit. Teapartiers do it with the Constitution, the religious right does it with the Bible, people selling diets do it with scientific findings, etc.
Posted by McJulie on December 5, 2012 at 12:41 PM · Report this
This shit is only important to mammy-wiped-my-butt upper middle class suburban kids, who grow into a world in which they are able to convince themselves that other people give a shit about what they think and feel.

But that reality is, the world does not give a shit. We don't need more writers and songstresses and poetry jams. The internet has made that shit so easy that the worst among us are participating. You wonder why people don't real anymore? It's because average dumbasses are writing books.

The truly creative in our world will find a way to express themselves and enrich our lives. The averagely creative should stick with whatever whatshisface recommends.
Posted by fetish on December 5, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
axolotl9 70
It's not just "nonfiction" that is being promoted by the Common Core standards, it's "informational text." "Narrative nonfiction" is also deprecated in the Common Core. This is why things like train schedules are being added to English textbooks, and page after page of statistics added to the history texts. (The school at which I work is currently previewing Prentice Hall's 2013 "Common Core" history and English programs - our ninth grade English teacher ditched it after 2 months and went back to the old textbook because the students were bored out of their minds...) The history books are being revised so there is less "narrative" (increases in food production led to population increases) and more "information" (imagine a chart graphing the relationship between bushels of wheat produced in a given location over a given period of time, to the population of that same region.) Yes, the graph may be more informative, but the students really don't care about dry facts presented like that. It's as if they're trying to make everything like AP courses (I taught AP US History one year... even I found the book boring!)
Posted by axolotl9 on December 5, 2012 at 9:53 PM · Report this
It is a mix it is always a mix. I've gone through many reading jags over the years. Sometimes it is fiction, sometimes it is non-fiction, sometimes religion, others philosophy, politics, history, Shakespear, Terry Pratchert.

I'm not sure anymore who I learned more about Physics from, Einstien or Douglas Adams.

Does it matter?
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on December 5, 2012 at 10:35 PM · Report this
McJulie 72
@70 Sounds nasty. Human cognition is so strongly narrative-based that I'm pretty sure the only possible result of such education reform is terminally bored students who don't retain a thing.
Posted by McJulie on December 6, 2012 at 8:09 AM · Report this
The separation between fiction and non-fiction is rather curious, because I've long thought that there are certain 'truths' you can say in 'fiction' that are harder to say in 'non-fiction.' Nonethelest, I'm curious if David Coleman actually thinks that the sole benefit of fiction is what he stated?
Posted by shane33 on December 6, 2012 at 2:25 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 74
I hold an opinion on this matter.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on December 6, 2012 at 10:53 PM · Report this
leek 75
axolotl9: Not sure where you got that--can you point me to a place in the Common Core standards? It might just be a poor interpretation by Prentice Hall. The standards specifically highlight (as I mentioned way up above) "literary nonfiction." The recommendations for grades K-5 do mention directions, forms, graphs, charts, and maps, but not at the expense of literary nonfiction.…

By grades 6-12 those charts and whatnot go away to be replaced with a focus almost entirely on literary nonfiction.…

The Publishers' Criteria for people who are creating textbooks and the like says that more of the literary nonfiction they read should emphasize arguments and be built on "informational text structures" rather than structured as stories, but again, if you look at their example genres you'll see that they're still supposed to be "narrative" as most people think of it--just not all biographies.
Posted by leek on December 7, 2012 at 9:41 AM · Report this
As far as good fiction goes, no one gives a damn about your childhood either. The average person's childhood or life in general isn't interesting enough for memoir. Better to imagine someone else's story or write about someone else then to suffer the fantasy that you have an interesting life that others want to read about.
Posted by airraid81 on September 21, 2014 at 6:12 PM · Report this

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