Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Role of Literary Nonfiction

I'm very much ok with expanding the role of quality literary nonfiction in the K-12 curriculum, but lets also be realistic about the (lack of) urgency on this issue. There is not a crisis of people who are proficient readers of literary fiction but not of literary nonfiction. The modifier "literary" in this case means "pleasant and interesting to read." There may be a problem with complex texts, literary or not. And there may especially be a problem with complex non-literary nonfiction (e.g., a 800 page biology text). But it isn't like we have a nation of Moby Dick readers who can't make it through In the Heart of the Sea.


pd said...

If you're coming out to SF anytime soon, I'll host you in our Bernal Hts. studio for as long as you like in recompense for a brief "PD" appearance in front of my CC-detesting teacher colleagues and our CC-worshiping admins. Your common sense response to the whole craziness is a dose of sanity I greatly appreciate.

Tom Hoffman said...

That would probably be good for my sanity too, since I feel like there are only a handful of us pointing out that the Emperor is seriously underdressed. Unfortunately, I have no plans right now for heading out west.

tellio said...

The problem most students have is with limited literacy, literary or otherwise. We have many new genres being born and it certainly is not a national problem to be unfamiliar with them. It won't really hurt the GDP all that much if more people don't take up graphic novels, right? I understand your point, I think. The problem is that my students are increasingly unable to shift from literary to non-literary, informal to formal. They read a text message, a classic essay, a technical manual, and a New York Times article in the same way. It is this inability to code-shift that marks many functional illiterates. We have not reached the apocalypse, probably aren't even close, but this growing incapacity has become more than a nagging worry. Glad for the opportunity to vent.

A little extra reading for you about literate non-fiction (or what we in the lit biz call creative non-fiction):

Anonymous said...

You're right. The is the wrong issue. It's not about Moby Dick or Heart of the Sea.

The problem is that kids don't read enough when they're older partly because reading is hard for them. But the problem starts much earlier - parent's don't engage their kids, they don't read to them, they don't have their kids read with them. The schools are in a tough place because those language skills that should be in place when they get to school oftentimes aren't.

And the schools keep harping on reading techniques (looking for detail, inferring, etc.) which are probably crap in helping kids read. I think that instead, kids need to read well-written, interesting things, whether fiction of non-fiction.