Saturday, February 7, 2015

Non-Fiction in the English Classroom

For years, some people in my English department argued that we severely under-serve and under-appreciate the genre of non-fiction in the classroom, especially at the high school level.  Despite our love for our stories in literature, we must acknowledge that nearly all the reading students will be asked to do in college is of the non-fiction slant, and we do our students a disservice by not studying non-fiction texts before then.  If the only non-fiction information and textual analysis students get in high school is their social studies textbook, that's a real shame.

Thus, I have attempted to promote non-fiction texts and work them into the curriculum.  For example, the summer reading assignment for my CE Intro to College Composition class was Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.  This was Gladwell's first book, and it focuses on the role that trends and specific subgroups of people play in the development of society.  By focusing on ideas such as the Broken Windows Theory or the way products become hip, Gladwell outlines how small actions impact and determine society's development.  In crafting his argument, Gladwell identifies three subgroups of people - Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen - who put these forces in play.  These descriptions are great fodder for discussion in the classroom.

Creativity and innovation are the qualities that lead to progress.  Beyond the obvious basic skills of literacy and computation, we want students to be able to problem solve - and that is linked to creativity.  Thus, books that can promote and inspire the ideas of creativity and innovation are useful tools in the classroom.  And, keeping in line with the push to promote more non-fiction in the classroom, I would recommend reading Daniel Pink's latest A Whole New Mind and Jonah Leher's Imagine.  Both these works are accessible in terms of promoting the values of imaginative, right-brain thinking which is integral to innovation and problem solving.

Other non-fiction works I've used are:

Michael Lewis' Next: The Future Just Happened

Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation 

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