Should we ban fiction from the curriculum?

NO. Absolutely not. No way. Hell to the no. NO.

Okay, that’s out there. I feel better after having typed it, I really do. So let’s take a deeper look at it.

Grant Wiggins started this call – and I don’t really care if he meant this piece to be satirical or not – he’s too widely respected (by myself as well) and too many people are running with it, one way or the other. And while I wholeheartedly agree that we need to infuse more non-fiction into what we are teaching, as well as more up-to-date pieces of fiction, to ban it? C’mon now (as my kids would say).

When I first read of this – on Mary Beth Hertz’s wonderful Philly Teacher blog – I immediately thought about a piece that Thomas French introduced me to when I took part in an ASNE Journalism Teacher’s Academy about 10 years ago. The piece expresses what I want from what I read better than anything else I’ve ever come across. I have shared it with my students on the first day of classes ever since:

Here’s what I’d like you to do for me: Make me laugh.  Make me cry.  Tell me my place in the world.  Lift me out of my skin and place me in another.  Show me places I have never visited and carry me to the ends of time and space.  Give my demons names and help me to comfort them.  Demonstrate for me possibilities I’ve never thought of and present me with heroes who will give me courage and hope.  Ease my sorrows and increase my joy.  Teach me compassion.  Entertain and enchant and enlighten me. Tell me a story.

— Dennis O’Neill, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics

I mean, come on – how brilliant is that? And while I’ve read a lot of great pieces of non-fiction, I’m having a really hard time thinking of any right now that have done what O’Neill describes above.

I know that our English Department worked really hard over the past year to update our selections. We work by theme and updated these as well – we’ve moved past The Scarlet Letter and The Good Earth and other pieces the kids just weren’t relating to and we’ve replaced them with The Book Thief and Fences and Catcher in the Rye. We’re continuing to look for even better pieces for our students and providing independent reading opportunities as well. And I’m proud of our department for recognizing and acting on this need.

Please read that piece by O’Neill again. We all want that, don’t we?

Pieces that I have had the opportunity to teach that would be wiped out if this actually happened. This saddens me when I look at this list…

The Book Thief, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Raisin in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Anthem, Animal Farm, anything by Shakespeare, The Crucible, The Outsiders –  and the list goes on…

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