During a revamp of state teaching standards a few years back, there was a move to favor nonfiction over fiction in the reading curriculum. I love nonfiction; I read a lot of it, but what the standards writers were ignoring, or perhaps fearing, is the critical understanding gained by reading fiction.
Reading Mildred Taylor’s Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry opened my eyes to the reality of segregated education.
Before Reconstruction, it was a punishable offense to teach a black person to read. My students knew this because we read Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen.
A recent middle grade novel, From The Desk Of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, introduces young people to the Innocence Project, and it examines an all-to-often occurrence, wrongful conviction. The title character asks, “What was the point of a legal system if it didn’t work a lot of the time?”
Oklahoma teachers will encounter students with an incarcerated parent. Shouldn’t these students find themselves in the literature? Shouldn’t we all know about The Innocence Project?
Good fiction helps us understand the refugee experience.
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh follows a young Syrian refugee whose father is drowned on the journey to France. When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed tells Omar’s story of growing up in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya after his father is killed in Somalia. Home Of The Brave by Katherine Applegate tells the story of a boy whose father and uncle were killed in Sudan. Students should understand why people become refugees.
Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis will open the reader’s eyes to what will happen to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women, if the Taliban regain control.
Read to understand the effects of U.S. policies in other countries and here at home.
What if the wealth of Greenwood’s residents hadn’t been wiped out? How might Tulsa be different now? There are several new books that cast light on this history, but it was a piece of fiction, Tulsa Burning by Anna Myers, that helped me understand how much white citizens in Tulsa resented the education and wealth of Greenwood’s Black citizens.
Quality fiction and hard topics are essential to school standards, no matter what bills the Oklahoma Legislature passes and our fearful governor signs.
People who read know things. Knowledge is not to be feared.