Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is the Common Core's call for more non-fiction anti-sexist? Maybe, but it might also be ageist!

Some people have defended the Common Core's call for more non-fiction by saying that the current slant toward fiction in English class is unfair to boys, since boys tend to read more non-fiction than girls do.  Boys do, in every country (pdf), read more non-fiction than girls.  I'm not particularly against having kids read more non-fiction.  I think the main thing is that kids read books they are interested in--and sometimes books their teachers are interested in, and that they have in-depth discussions both of the larger questions raised by the text and of the word-by-word texture of the text.

Just interesting as the gender divide, and considerably less discussed, is the way reading tastes shift over time.   Boys like non-fiction more than girls; in a similar way, older people like non-fiction more than younger people. I see this in my own children, I see it in my colleagues, and I see it in my own reading.  When I was a kid, I read more fiction than nonfiction.  In my twenties, I read about the same amount of fiction and non-fiction.  By now I read more non-fiction than fiction.  Why is this, and what might it mean for our practice?

I have two theories about why I read non-fiction more now than I did as a kid.  One is that quality matters more in fiction than it does in non-fiction. I may not have read all the books, but I have read most of the really, really good ones, and I'd much rather read a mediocre non-fiction book than a mediocre novel.  At least I'll learn something!

Another reason, I think, is that I want to escape the real world less than I did as a kid.  I'm less interested in entertainment, and more interested in practical matters.  I am much happier to do the dishes now than I used to be.  I like to think that this is wisdom, but I'm prejudiced.

If I am prejudiced, it's possible that the people who wrote the Common Core standards are prejudiced, too. So is the new emphasis on non-fiction an example of ageism? After all, David Coleman is about my age...

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