I read an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday entitled “What Should Children Read?” I am providing the link so you can read it for yourself.
Whatever the “experts” who have written these national standards might think, reading fiction has a value far more than just time-filling entertainment that has no practical use and cannot help in the job market.
We have become obsessed with thinking of education as a road to employment, and have forgotten that education is a road to life. If you do not have the tools to think critically and examine your own life, your potential in any career will be minimal.
Reading fiction allows us to learn about other lives and other times and apply them to our own. It allows us to compare our experiences with the experiences of characters who have been created by writers to make a point. Reading fiction allows us to learn to appreciate the beauty of the language, and to be articulate speakers and writers. And reading fiction is often just plain fun.
To cite just one example, the generation that has grown up reading the Harry Potter books has learned more than just a story about a school for magicians. They have learned about friendship, the struggle between good and evil, bravery, sorrow, disappointment and many other human emotions and circumstances. All of these factors are important for grown-ups as well as children. And they have learned all of this while enjoying that great story of the school for magicians, which I think makes it more meaningful.
For some reason, the English classes in the high school I attended did not assign novels to read as a class. My parents brought me up with weekly visits to the library, so I read anyway. Later as an English teacher, I taught many of the classics, but also encouraged students to read for fun. Instead of cutting back on the reading of fiction, we should encourage students to read more.
Some of my favorites are To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse Five. There are many more, of course, and they teach timeless truths that are so much more meaningful because they are fiction.
Fiction may not be true, but it is the truth.
What novels have meant the most to you?