Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Greene: Corrective Fiction

I was dismayed to learn that the new Common Core recommendations for teaching reading and writing have dramatically downsized the use of literature. The emphasis is now on nonfiction. The rationale is that most workplace reading is nonfiction, so to make students college and career ready, this would be a smart step.

The redistribution of emphasis happens incrementally through the grades, with a fifty/fifty split between nonfiction and fiction in K-grade 5, a 60/40 in grades 6-8 and a whopping 70% of reading dedicated to nonfiction in grades 9-12. The reasoning goes that as college costs and student debt soar, moving away from the humanities toward more technical training will result in grads landing better, more lucrative jobs. Recently the New York Times even quoted Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin going so far as to say that students studying French literature should not receive state funding for their college educations.

Fostering students in the STEM fields is really exciting and it may be as practical as its fans claim, but we also could be brewing a perfect storm if we dismiss studying literature as mere luxury. Many studies indicate that social intelligence drives workplace success as much as GPAs or test performance. The ability to empathize and connect with peers can make the difference between successful teamwork and chaos. What’s more, as young people increasingly substitute screen time for face-to-face interaction, their social skills are declining.

Patricia Greenfield is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UCLA and coauthor of a landmark UCLA study of social skills and screen time. She says young adults appear to be "…losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people.” Reading fiction might help correct that problem by encouraging students to develop compassionate connection - as when Scrooge learns to consider more than the bottom line in A Christmas Carol by being forced to witness the stories of the people he has affected.

Great books put the nerve endings back into history. Toni Morrison’s Beloved gives us more insight into the horrors of slavery than any textbook could. Richard Flanagan’s Wanting gives us a visceral understanding of colonialism.

Says Colum McCann, novelist and Narrative 4 co-founder, “After we have satisfied the need for water, food, a roof, companionship, storytelling is where we turn for encouragement in how to live.”

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio has called for more welders and fewer philosophers, but I think an inclusive society must foster compassion and the ability to see beyond our own special interests to the common good.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
Latest Stories