A new curriculum for public schools across the United States will soon make it mandatory for at least 70 percent of all assigned books to be works of non-fiction, eliminating classic works that have influenced great thinkers for centuries.
By 2014, schools in 46 out of 50 states will have adopted this new curriculum, which favors “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards to prepare students for the workplace.
Suggested books included works by the Environmental Protection Agency, like the Recommended Levels of Insulation, as well as the Invasive Plant Inventory by California’s Invasive Plant Council.
While the new curriculum might provide practical information, it would also deprive students of classic literary works that have long been a part of the American culture. In studying the role of fiction in education, scientists have recently learned that fictional narratives develop human social and emotional life, giving students the ability to better understand people, the New York Times reports.
Dr. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, said that reading provides a vivid stimulation of reality that “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up on myriad interacting instances of cause and effect.”
But books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rue and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will no longer be the preferred reading assigned in US schools. Classic novels by authors including Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevksy, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway could soon be forgotten and replaced with textbook-style history books and other works of nonfiction put together by government departments or research groups.
“I’m afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes,” Jamie Highfill, a teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Arkansas, told The Telegraph. “In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?”
Supporters of the new curriculum claim that informational texts would make students better prepared for both college and the workplace at a time when millions of high school students drop out of school each year. The nonfiction could teach them to write factually and concisely.
“So many kids, often as many as 50 percent, graduate high school … demonstrably not ready for the demands of a first-year college course or job-training program,” David Coleman, president of the College Board, told NPR.
The new curriculum has stirred a heated debate among academics, with some teachers and professors employed in English departments hesitant about giving up their favorite literary works.
“English is the only compulsory class where students are encouraged to think differently, to be imaginative and creative, and if we take fiction out of the English curriculum, where are our kids going to get that?” said curriculum and instruction graduate research assistant Shea Kerkhoff in an interview with Technician Online.
The 46 US states who will implement the new curriculum have already signed onto the Common Core standards and some have already adopted the new guidelines.