Education: A Defense of Reading Fiction
Original article posted here.
I couldn’t believe my ears. An educator, a prominent one at that, had announced on a national television program that reading fiction was useless to the education of children. She stated that non-fiction would never get someone a job and was useless in the real world.
This is not only an ignorant statement, it is dangerous. This type of worldview seeks to make humans utilitarian… their worth is only what they can produce in business or to the government entities. They relegate men to just servants of a production workforce, not souls where nourishment is necessary, and beauty is her passion.
However, it is even more problematic than what I just wrote. Fiction has played an instrumental role in the development of our society and culture. Here are just a few reasons I think fiction is essential to a healthy, vibrant, and true education.
Fiction shapes the mind
If you look at some of the far reaching fiction stories in the world, you can look at the books like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all influenced a culture during dynamic times in our country.
It is not just these books that have been influential upon man. The Illiad is a foundation book on western culture–one of the most influential work in Western Civilization. Shakespeare influenced both language and culture well beyond his era. The evidence of history is clear, fiction has done much to transform our society by shaping the mind and enlivening the spirit.
Fiction engages creativity
Creativity is not something that is measured, it is something that is developed, encouraged, and inspired. Granted, both non-fiction and fiction alike are creative, but there is a creativity involved in fiction that often inspires people towards more creativity.
Explore the depths of your creativity through reading fiction.
Fiction gives us insight into people
When children and adults read fiction, they are allowed to see insights into the inner recesses of thought and motivation often missing in regular writing. These books allow you to feel the internal struggle of Frodo Baggins or the close friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. In both cases, you are taken into the mind to experience events, not merely reading of events.
Fiction celebrates human uniqueness by treating man as complex, not for utilitarian purposes
Fiction recognizes that men are emotionally complex with desires, and ambitions. In fact, fiction demands of the reader to be more than mere participants in the story, but it requires the reader to be as complex as the people in the story. In good fiction, beauty is celebrated, ugliness is made clear, life is truly complex, and humans are three dimensional.
Fiction creates three dimensional thinkers
As a fan of non-fiction, I gravitate to theology, philosophy, and law. While, these types of books are useful, but to help me think through issues, I gravitate towards fiction. Fiction enables young and old thinkers to have a three dimensional view helping us to think beyond the surface and into the depths of all human experience.
Classical music develops the mind of a young baby; fiction develops the mind of the reader.
Fiction develops us socially
As a homeschool father, I hear the objection that homeschoolers are socially awkward. While studies have shown homeschoolers are better socialized, I believe students who fail to engage in fiction are less socialized than kids who engage in fiction.
Fiction writing is an excellent and more complete way to socialize people in proper discourse, etiquette, and culture. The insights a child is given through reading fiction will have a greater impact than most other endeavors.
Take the rich character development of Pride and Prejudice. As you read of the social indiscretions of various characters, you cringe and become most embarrassed. This is helpful in helping you avoid the same social indiscretions.
Fiction helps us understand Worldview, now and in the past
When I open a book of fiction, I learn more than a story, but I learn how people view the world. In a book my wife and I recently read, we were able to see a culture who thinks about issues differently, but we were also able to see similarities. Helping us to understand other worldviews, we can, in a Biblical education, better see the truth of the Christian Worldview and defend it, and we learn to lovingly engage others of differing worldviews. As well, wisdom is gained.
A word of warning is needed at this point, not all fiction is the same. Help your kids enjoy the great works of fiction that has withstood the test of time and has engaged the full sphere or character development, human experience, and engaging thought. Reading the rich fictional works will develop rich personalities of thoughtful children.
Parents should beware of educators who make light of fiction. Fiction is an essential element to our growth as people and helps us develop mentally, spiritually, socially, and academically. As history has proven, an education is not complete without a healthy dose of fiction.
Now, I ask you to excuse me as I go to pick up another book. My mind needs to engage the wonderful worlds that can only be found in books.
Derick Dickens has an MBA in Leadership, MDiv, and MA in Religion. He speaks regularly on topics ranging from Christian Worldview issues to business leadership, and he is an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Resources. Derick is also an award winning public speaker, speech evaluator, and leader. Married for 16 years to his wife Lacie, they have three children and live in Lynchburg Virginia. You can follow Derick on Twitter at twitter.com/derickdickens.