What is Good Fiction? Why Does it Matter?


Should fiction be cut from education? Critics claim that’s the direction “common core” is going. If so, is it the right direction? While there is disagreement on the degree of shift, there will certainly be some sort of a shift toward more technical reading instead of fiction. Is this a good idea?

Should students be able to understand technical reading? Naturally. Strong critical thinking and vocabulary should itself be preparation for that. And incorporating that vocabulary and critical thinking into the curriculum is important.

There are, however, key aspects of education that extend beyond today’s technical knowledge emphasis. Areas where critical thinking, and problem solving are only the beginning.

It would be foolish to ignore the historical importance of stories in their role of teaching, enriching, unifying, and elevating us on intellectual, social, ethical, and emotional levels.

Think of Greece with Homer, Aesop, and their playwrights, or Israel with Passover. Consider the culturally unifying effect of England’s Book of Common Prayer, and Shakespeare, or the Scottish identity anchored in stories of heroes like William Wallace, and their poets like Robbie Burns. A necessary part of culture involves reminding ourselves about who we are; stories provide a key vehicle for that.

I saw this stark contrast living as a Canadian in the States. In Canada, it is widely acknowledged that one province (Quebec) has specific defining characteristics that set it apart from its neighbors, including things like language, music and food. But try to get a Canadian in any other part of Canada to define their culture, and you will probably get a superficial caricature, a rant, or a shrug. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because we don’t have a unified voice, culture, or shared story (“Melting Pot”) like our Southern neighbors.

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