Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I’m on a roll today. Actually, I am practicing creative procrastination. Or maybe it is my version of couch potato for the sick person. More Facebook goodness. Well, it is from The Circe Institute blog, but their posts are linked on FB. (Do you see how I justify my FB habit?)

True Lies by Angelina Stanford @ The Circe Institute:

When I was a kid I was taught by my elementary teachers that non-fiction books are true and that fiction books are not true. I bet most of us were taught that same distinction. But as an adult I have discovered that these categories are very misleading and problematic…

Works of fiction, especially fairy tales, can develop a child’s moral imagination, can help them distinguish right from wrong, and can prepare them for the great battles of their lives.

Comparing truths in fiction and nonfiction recently came up elsewhere in my reading. From Classics in the Classroom by Michael Clay Thompson:

A point about fiction and nonfiction: we must teach our students not to mistake the natures of fiction and nonfiction. The amateur’s specious idea that nonfiction classics such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X are true and fictional classics such as Silas Marner are not true must be carefully avoided. Some of history’s greatest and most evil fictions have appeared in nonfiction works (Hitler’s Mein Kampf  is an example), and some of humanity’s truest truths have appeared in works of fiction, such as Oedipus Rex, Moby Dick, or Les Miserables. There are forms of truth that only fiction seems capable of reaching…

Of course, the heart of this discussion about classics, ideas, thinking, and intellectual freedom is that education must be, in essence, a search for truth. It is a mark of how cynical, feckless, and decadent we have become that to view education as a search for truth seems naive and idealistic. But what is the alternative view? Would anyone feel comfortable seriously articulating it? The hard fact is that if education does not concern itself with the search for truth, it is fraudulent….

If teachers are engaged with their students in an exciting…search for truth, rather than in an endless concatenation of time-consuming, unfocused, pseudo-educational hubbub, then truth can be found, and students can be instructed.


Hannah said...

I've found myself pausing when teaching my children about the difference between nonfiction and fiction. As the post you quote asserts, it just doesn't seem accurate to define one as "true" and one as not. I think what we've come up with is that nonfiction concerns events that "really happened," while fiction describes events that "didn't really happen, but could have." Fantasy, OTOH, "didn't really happen, and couldn't have either" -- at least not in our world.

I'm not sure this is the perfect definition either, but at least it sidesteps either shallow discussions of truth or overly sophisticated ones that they may not be mature enough for.

How do you define these with your boys?

Heidi said...

I think your description is a great place to start, and certainly it will be an ongoing discussion with our children over the course of their education. That is probably similar to how I've defined it for the boys at this point.

What is interesting is that this reminded me of a test prep book I purchased to look over and have Levi practice with back when I was starting to feel anxious over the fact that he had standardized testing coming up. The *very first questions* required the student to identify fiction and non-fiction. The questions were so poorly worded, even *I* had to read them several times to understand what on earth they were asking. The writing samples didn't give enough clues; the 'fiction' example was in first person and sounded like a child telling about his day. How is the student to know whether that was true or not without any context?! It could have been a journal entry. AND, to top it all off, the student had to equate the word 'fiction' with the word 'story.' Quite problematic, considering our much-loved history book is titled The Story of the World and our devotional is called Telling God's Story.

I'm pretty sure that is about when anxiety turned to panic. Who creates these standardized tests?!! The stress was all for nothing, though, as the tests Levi took did not resemble the test prep book in any way. Whew!!

But the quest for truth in a literature-rich world is most definitely not a shallow, simple-to-define one. Thanks for entering the discussion, Hannah. I always enjoy your comments.