Self Expression Magazine

Fiction in the Schooling System

Posted on the 28 December 2012 by Eternalmusing @HanaMuses

The world of literature has an expanse of different writing styles, genres, forms, and structures. However, one genre that is looked down upon and often undervalued is fiction, when it is the one genre that requires a deep sense of imagination and creativity. Many schools are moving away from teaching literature, resorting instead to textbooks and learning about form and grammar, perhaps including a few excerpts here and there. However, even with passages from occasional fictional works, students are not given much leeway to discuss their feelings about the book, what with a teacher looming over them, scolding them for incorrect interpretations.  People are becoming so drilled with facts, rules, and regulations, it would not be a surprise if people lost the ability to be creative.
In today's modern education system, the main concern is with facts. Analyses or interpretation involves opinion; so, according to the president of College Board, David Coleman, as you grow up, people do not care about how you feel or what you think. There is truth to what he says. If you are in the workforce, you do your task. If you are asked to create an inventory report, you create an inventory report. If you are asked to diagnose a patient, you do just that. There is no leeway for your opinion or your feelings. What Coleman does not regard, however, is the lessons fiction teaches you. Is that not the way we learn? Trial and error, the advice of others? So maybe the story is a fictional work. Why should that matter? The author behind that work is a real person, one who has a thought or idea to share with the world. The purpose of the story is to illustrate the idea in terms of something people can understand. This is something the College Board does not seem to take into consideration. With the new Common Core State Standards, where public schools put more emphasis on non-fiction readings in English classes, a great number of good, classical works will be taken out of the education system, which is a major concern. 
Think back to your high school English courses. Remember To Kill A Mockingbird?The Great GatsbyWuthering Heights or even The Catcher in the Rye? These stories, all fiction, taught us lessons. Lessons about life, about loss, about living and growing and maturing. Those books taught us to pick up a different perspective on life. From the stories that brought out the racism and stereotypes of our own society to the ones that fleshed out the barriers placed between the rich and poor, these stories provoke thought that runs deeper than the tale they are trying to tell. Through these stories, we learn more than just the analyses of syntax and diction used in the story, we learn about our society's faults and faults within ourselves. We live vicariously through other characters and analyze what could have happened if they had reacted differently, or if certain events had not happened. We learn to expand our own critical thinking abilities by reading and coming up with our own conclusions. 
This brings up another problem with the high school education system. Most teachers have a viewpoint on a story, or a large population of English scholars have a certain interpretation of a novel, and the teacher expects the student to embrace or accept that interpretation. Take the book Heart of Darkness for an example. The novel is shorter than most books that are expected to be read in school, but it is more complex than most. Every word, every sentence in that book has an underlying meaning, which, although hard as it was to read, was somewhat mind-opening to take in. However, when I walk into class with my own insights and thoughts, I am immediately shot down for having an incorrect opinion, or one that strays away from what the teacher had in mind. Though my opinion was backed up by evidence from the text, it apparently was not "what they are looking for". When teachers put down students' opinions, they snuff out the enthusiasm students may have, the ideas they gathered and started to kindle into a fire proudly on their own. This will hinder their desire to think critically, pushing the students away from even trying to think beyond what the teacher requires. 
One thing Dickens taught me in Hard Times is that being shut down constantly for having a different opinion, or having an original or individual thought can have devastating results. Of course everyone, including Dickens himself knows that the characters in the novel as well as the story as a whole is a satirical, over-exaggerated take on the subject, however it is not far from the truth. We see characters who grew up with "only facts" and "believing in the facts" as emotionless people. Louisa, Thomas Gradgrind's daughter is such a character. Gradgrind raised her on facts, allowing no room for fun or imagination and wonder. Thus, no creative thought and no idea how to control her own feelings and emotions. When she realizes this she yells at her father, saying, "I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me." Of course, the exaggeration of having students who do not know how to express emotion is not applicable, but the idea of it is not far off. Resorting to nonfiction could block out a student's ability to think abstractly. 
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a library to raise an adult. A thinker, a ponderer, one with ideas that could shape our future generations. It is true that not all of us are philosophers and great thinkers, but what could be so hard in trying? Our lives may be enriched if we tried for once to think, instead of just do. Many of us are out there, with a thought or an idea, but we do not know how to express this idea. The importance of reading fiction extends beyond the realm of feelings and story, it helps people understand each other, and more importantly, it helps people understand themselves. Educating students about literature, about English, should not be a step-by-step guide on what to expect and what a certain part of the text implies based on cliché, or the elements of literature, basic diction, syntax, implications. It should be about giving students a lasting impression, allowing them to think for themselves, to use what they learned and apply it to their lives in their own way. Why should the education system only educate for the sake of exams? Should school not teach life lessons as well, to raise students who are not only intellectual but creative thinkers as well? Surely a society cannot thrive if we continue to raise robots. 

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