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Friday, December 12, 2008

Should Science Fiction Be Taught in Schools?

I don't think the question should be whether it should be taught in schools, but whether there should be a larger variety of science fiction titles presented to students. Science fiction is already taught in most schools (at least in America). Some of the most popular science fiction stories taught in public high schools include 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and a select few other titles (Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card has become rather popular); some school curriculum already offer a varied diet of science fiction titles--kudos to them.

In my personal opinion, however, in directing my answer to this particular question: Yes, of course science fiction should be taught in public schools, but I believe that the same criteria for quality should be applied to science fiction as to any other genre of fiction. We teach Charles Dickens for a very specific reason, and similar reasons should be applied to science fiction novels (which are why the novels I mentioned above tend to be common). I simply think that there needs to be more variety. I don't think all science fiction texts should be taught, nor do I suggest that only the "classics" deserve a space. There are plenty of incredibly important science fiction novels that have sprung up in the last thirty years (such as William Gibson's work or Joe Haldeman, Arthur C. Clarke. et al). As such, there is a wealth of material available to the public and to schools that could beneficial for the teaching of modern forms of literature.

I personally feel that many of our schools place too much focus on "classic" forms of literature--particularly older work--and I see that as failing to prepare our students for the changes that have occurred in modern literature today. True, one's reading ability does not necessarily have to be advanced to read the vast majority of literature written today, but critical thinking is absolutely necessary to grasping the sometimes abstract or deeply-rooted concepts found within many great science fiction novels.

As to why I think science fiction should be taught: Science fiction is the literature of the future. It speculates upon the world we live in now to see where we might end up one day, whether that be 10 years ahead or 100 years ahead (or 1,000). As a genre it is important because many of the greatest science fiction novels do contain the depth and themes that make literature important to us. It is a genre that constantly questions and examines the human condition, which is precisely what literature is meant to do. That makes it an enormously important genre in preparing students for critically thinking upon the human condition. It also has a powerful influence on world perspectives and I find that the more I read science fiction the more I find that my own personal feelings about the world I live in now are put into question. While public schools aren't necessarily there to get students to challenge themselves, good literature will do this from time to time and it is important to expose the next generation of readers to such conditions.

That's the case I'm making for teaching science fiction in schools. What do you think? Do you have different opinions on the matter?

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  1. I agree. I actually think that the way "classic" novels are taught can be a real turn-off, especially for students who aren't big on reading to begin with. I think that students should be allowed to chose at least some of their own reading from a list that includes genre works. That was the approach of the honors English class I had in high school: part of the reading list was set by the teacher and included standard literary classics, the rest of the reading we could chose ourselves with approval from the teacher.

  2. That's actually a really smart idea. It would be interesting to add a little democracy into the classroom: let kids vote on one book they collectively want to read from a list of pre-selected titles that includes things from across that board. That would be cool!

  3. Additionally, I think it would be intelligent for schools to try to include literature that they know their students actually like (i.e. popular literatures). I'm not saying it should be a significant portion of the curriculum, but if you get kids talking about work that they already like I find that it helps pave the way to getting them to think critically about work they might not have liked before.

  4. Anonymous1:55 PM

    I used this very subject as a topic for an independent colloquium study when I was in college. I still have a lot of my research in a folder - somewhere. LOL! One thing I mentioned was using science fiction as a tool for teaching kids about research.

  5. You should blog about that research. I'd be really interested to see what you found out! This is the field I'm planning to spend my entire academic and professional field in, after all...