by Rachel Taliaferro
Probably due to its click-bait title, a short post on Bookforum by journalist Natasha Vargas-Cooper, "Why We Should Stop Teaching Novels to High School Students," has been making the rounds in many of the education blogs and websites I follow.
Although I hardly agree that fiction should be entirely thrown out of high school lit classes, Vargas-Cooper does make an interesting case for infusing literature curricula with more nonfiction. "Just maybe," she writes, "the novel is not the best device for transmitting ideas, grand themes, to hormonal, boisterous, easily distracted, immature teenagers."
Citing the compelling nature of the immediacy, factuality, and brevity of nonfiction, Vargas-Cooper argues that nonfiction may be a better and more economical way for resource-lacking schools to engage students, ignite a love of reading, and communicate the same themes that are often explored in fiction. She concludes with her ideal hypothetical nonfiction reading list for high school classrooms, which includes Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, and Hunter S. Thompson.
A response by Margaret Eby on the New York Daily News' book blog--aptly titled "Yes, We Should Still Teach Novels to High School Students"--presents a counterpoint to Vargas-Cooper's argument, explaining both the educational value in teaching fiction and the potential political trouble and underhanded censorship that might arise from exiling novels from high school classrooms.
My literary tastes were shaped in high school (and, as a direct result, the bulk of my political leanings), and I think neglecting to teach novels in high school would ultimately leave students unprepared for college and stunt any creative ambitions or sensibilities they might have. That said, these two pieces are compelling reads for any teacher who wants to change up or supplement his or her literature curriculum (at the very least, Vargas-Cooper's reading list provides some excellent recommendations).