this article in The Telegraph about how "Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of 'informational texts'." Informational texts, apparently, are things such as manuals and inventories. These new standards are being part-funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
When entering the "real world" as adults, the children of today will come across far more non-fiction than fiction. Reading a bus timetable, filling out job applications, understanding electricity bills - these are the fundamental reasons we teach children to read. But does that mean schools should be spending less time on fiction and more on non-fiction?
Non-fiction, of course, comes in many forms. Some of these are very similar to fiction: they tell a compelling story that grips the reader (this is particularly true of the extraordinarily popular so-called 'misery memoirs'). The only difference is that the reader also knows that they are true. Reading well-written non-fiction can be brilliant. One of my favourite books - the story of civilisation and why certain populations ended up with all the power - is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. And there are great books for children too. Just look at the Horrible Histories books - non-fiction that has captivated successive generations of children.
So non-fiction is good. But what about fiction. Is fiction actually important? Of course it brings a lot of joy and is wonderful escapism for adults and children alike, but why actually teach it?
There will be some kids at school who love reading fiction and, if they struggle with other areas of schooling, it might be what saves their education. So for them, it has an obvious, tangible benefit. But I would say that it has benefits for all children. A lot of cultural references come from famous books and, in my opinion, fiction encourages development. I wouldn't want to live in a world where the adults were once teenagers who never had to use their imagination; whose sole entertainment came as a complete package on a screen - images and sounds spoonfed to them, rather than created in their heads from words on a page. Fiction - both reading and writing it - discourages lazy thinking.
I have nothing against non-fiction being taught in schools. I think it's a good thing for children to read examples of concise and interesting non-fiction that they can learn from. I'm just not sure plant inventories and manuals are really necessary. You can teach a kid to write an essay; you can't teach them to love learning. Children can leave school merely educated, or they can leave inspired as well.
What do you think? Is fiction actually important? Or is it a luxury?