I love Taylor Mali and his fabulous response to what teachers make. It’s true. Teachers train hard for a career which prepares them to work with students and develop teaching skills. Teachers need support for what and how we teach. We need to be heard.
Students have different schools these days than before. Corporations, like Educational Testing Services control a tremendous amount of how a teacher teaches, and politicians are taking over with their philosophies.
For example, today’s American Standardized tests in English focus more on non-fiction than fiction. This is a crucial shift. Think about this.
A teacher on NPR radio opinion said it plainly this morning, “Out with Shakespeare, in with the New York Times.” Students are not being taught to respect their imaginations in school much anymore. Current politics has succeeded in ‘taking the teacher out of teaching’.
The teacher told about his students responding to Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” in a more compelling way than if they read historical documents about the Viet Nam war. More than ever, students are taught to pass a test, instead of how to grow their character.
O’Brien wrote a collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. His third book is based upon his experiences as a soldier in the 23rd Infantry Division, 3rd Platoon. The powerful memoir vividly captures personal stories, but it is considered fiction. It took O’Brien over twenty-five years to write his memoir, relying upon a technique called metafiction, or verisimilitude. The reader becomes more involved with events because they feel real, deep connections with real characters as if they are true. These are the connections that truly teach about the Viet Nam war, not just statistics.
With non-fiction, we might get dates and events, but we do not get emotions that linking fiction brings to history. So we can’t use O’Brien, because it’s ‘fiction?’ Which content changes the world? The facts or the people? Does studying for a test make us compassionate individuals?
Someone once said, “Genius is the person who makes connections” and fiction can do that for each one of us. Students can read O’Brien and become part of the Viet Nam story. That is learning. Students learn to love reading and learn about their past, their humanity.
I respect teachers. We know what we are doing, and most of us do it well. We want students to remember both facts and use their imagination. How we learn does change the world. Student by student. Not test by test.
Our students deserve to go deeper into themselves with a blend of fiction and nonfiction, to learn who they are in American History and have it mean something.
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