Note: It has come to my attention that Wiggins’ article was meant as satire, but most people missed that, myself included. Here is my response, nonetheless.
Recently, education consultant Grant Wiggins made the suggestion that we might be better off banning most fiction books from schools, because they don’t prepare students for careers and they apparently bore boys. Though I do believe that reading non fiction is important for male and female students alike, I disagree with both assertions about fiction. In this post, I’d like to share my confusion at the notion that fiction bores boys.
Does fiction bore boys? Not the boys in my classes! Boys are some of my most voracious readers. Series like Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Artemis Fowl, Secret Series, Pendragon Series, A Wrinkle In Time Series, and even Diary of a Wimpy Kid, are hugely popular with the seventh grade boys in my classes. So, I just find Wiggin’s comment to be an untruth.
Have I met boys who appear to be bored by fiction… who would rather read nonfiction books about bears, wars, skateboarding, etc? Yes. Should they have the opportunity to read the non fiction they are interested in reading? Yes.
Do I believe that these boys are actually bored by fiction because they say most every fiction book they pick up is boring? No.
Why? Because these same boys love stories. How do I know? Well, let’s look at their taste in movies. Are they more interested in watching documentaries about nature, World War II, or skateboarding than they are in watching the latest action flick? No! Do these boys get bored when I show a dramatic, character-driven film (like “Smoke Signals”) that may as well be a novel, in visual form? No. Do they get bored when I tell the class a folk tale, asking instead for non fiction? Absolutely not! They are riveted by stories.
Every boy I’ve ever taught–every adolescent, in fact–loves stories. There is a developmental need for stories. Research shows that reading fiction is an subjective experience in which the reader has an active role in the co-construction of the story in his or her imagination.
The problem with boys and reading (girls too) is that in school we so often take away that subjective part of the experience–we take away the students’ power over the stories they read (there are several ways in which we do this to stories–more another time). We turn reading into something else: a series of skills to be mimicked, learned, regurgitated, measured, evaluated. The teacher takes a very active, exhausting role in this, but the student’s imagination is marginalized. Reading becomes a passive activity, and for many boys that is a problem.
The way we interrupt a student’s experience of stories, imposing right and wrong answers and mandatory strategies is a problem when it comes to fiction, because fiction is meant to be an alternate universe, lived for a prolonged amount of time through the imagination via the written word.
Nonfiction, however, is read mostly for information. The interruptions, the checking for understanding, the strategies, the right and wrong answers, do not pose a problem in the pursuit of the goal of gathering information. In fact, they help many readers feel more power over the texts they read. Thus, students who are most concerned with power, especially those who’ve been made to feel powerless throughout their schooling, often times boys, may prefer reading non fiction. But this is because of how we’ve defined and designed “reading” experiences in school. It has nothing to do with boys’ lack of love for stories.
[image credit: creativeeducation.co.uk]