In the past few years, significant attention has been given to the fact that the skills of reading comprehension and language competency of high school graduates have been declining. Increasingly, more and more high school graduates are unprepared for intro-level college courses, requiring them to pay for remedial courses (for which they receive no college credit).
A new solution has been introduced to attempt to remedy this problem, highlighted with this report from NPR:
In summary, President Coleman of the College Board is mandating “a sweeping cirricula change” where nonfiction mostly or completely replaces fiction in English classes.
I’m of divided opinion on this theory. There is significant value in classical fiction (classical is anything pre-80s in this age of quickly evolving technogenerations) and the lessons portrayed therein, but it is true that classical fiction may simply be uninteresting to the modern young mind. Worse yet, it could be alienating all together (in its language, issues, and perceived relevance), turning the young mind away from the genre all together.
In our media-intense modern world, the traditional book struggles for a spot in our fast-paced lifestyles. It has been repeatedly proven that the younger generations prefer video, audio, or illustrative media over purely written material. Accepting that, we must then realize that the very real values portrayed in classical nonfiction have less chance of reaching their audience unless we transform them into modern media. That has been happening in some cases (such as the story of Moby Dick and its lesson of chasing the white whale, which has had a few decent iterations, both directly and indirectly), but most “lessons” of our culture are losing air time to the vapid wastes of mass media (where poor behavior is highlighted).
On a personal level, I value books (fiction and nonfiction) greatly, and I do think that fictional novels should still be a part of the cirriculum. Perhaps the required reading should be focused on modern fiction (as in from the past ~2 years), which has successfully kept pace with modern thought and issues. Classical books could be delved into later at the choice of the reader.