Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In Defense of Fiction.

I love words.  I love to read.  I love to ponder.  Reading helps me to form opinions.  It incites emotions, making the heart swell. 

Josh just finished a unit on, "To Kill a Mockingbird".  Do you remember reading that in middle school?  Josh was so into the book that he wanted to read further than they were supposed to.  He was so into it that he got an 89 out of 90 on his last test.  Because he was so enthralled, I decided to re-read it. 

My favorite quote was from Atticus Finch, "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....until you climb into his skin and walk around in it".  I'm not sure if the author was foreshadowing the race issues in the book by referencing "skin", but this is a powerful quote, in any case.  Empathy is a virtue, and one that doesn't come naturally. 

Like any good book, "To Kill a Mockingbird" incites emotions.  The reader identifies with characters similar to their situation.  Young readers relate to Jem, Scout, and Dill.  Parents relate to Atticus Finch.  Adults relate to the Radleys, and to Miss Maudie.  The situations in the book infuriate, encourage, and create joy. 

So, when I read this article, I was perplexed.  Why, in heaven's name, would students be required to read Recommended levels of insulation (by the US EPA) or Invasive Plant Inventory (by California's Invasive Plant Council)?  In the year 2014, required reading for students will equal 70% non-fiction books and manuals.  The reasoning is that students will be better prepared for the workforce reading non-fiction. 

I respectfully disagree. 

Non-fiction manuals do not incite empathy.  Non-fiction manuals do not challenge our opinions.  Non-fiction manuals do the opposite of creating emotion. 

Our students need to be able to reason, to empathize, to relate to characters different from themselves.  Our students need to learn from our history and make better choices.  Books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" educate in a way that history books cannot.  To read about segregation and racism in a history book does not tell the story.  We all agree that racism is wrong, but do we really know what that feels like and looks like?  A good story will explain a situation in a way completely unlike a history manual. 

I think the best way to "walk around in another person's skin" is to read.  Reading has the immense power to help the reader identify with someone who may be completely different from them.  Authors have the privilege to create a world in which the reader can escape the barriers of the real world.  The world of a good book is one in which the reader can imagine that the barriers of race, socioeconomic status, and inequality are non-existent.  The reader can place himself in the character's skin and walk around in it, sometimes changing his preconceived notions. 

I don't know anyone that can relate to an invasive plant species. 

What do you think?


  1. I have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a classic and I love the story which would have been quite controversial for the time in which it’s set.

    I completely agree with you. The bald re-telling of historical facts has it’s place but with fiction you can set a more personal context and lead the reader through a roller coaster of emotions through the characters.

  2. Reading opens up new worlds, takes you places you could never go (at least not most of us). Non-fiction reading would just have made me quit reading .. don't know what they are thinking. Very sad.

  3. That's just plain weird and possibly political correctness taken to a new level. Sometimes I had to read fiction books in school that I thought were boring but having to read an instruction manual would be hideous.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you.

  4. Thank you for sharing and I loved the quote you used! I think...even so more now....our kids need to be reading literature that inspires them to be empathetic or challenges them to look at the world differently. Agree with you 100%.