I firmly believe that the Bible has the answers to every issue we may face in life, if we look for them. In my previous article, “What Does it Mean to Teach Diamonds,” I pointed out many time-wasting focuses that public and private schools have. With my daughter, I wanted our “school” time to be spent on educational pursuits, not on the time-wasters that are in schools and in most (if not all) curriculums. Reading textbook after reading textbook is filled with fictional stories, with the reasoning being that it doesn’t really matter what children read as long as they read something. That reading practice will increase their reading skills. In designing my homeschool, I asked the question: Should I teach my daughter to read fiction?
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
Ouch! This scripture, when applied to the setting of homeschool, makes the answer to my question very clear. Do I read fiction because I know my daughter will enjoy it? According to this scripture, the answer is no. This is happening in schools today, both public and private. Some of you may argue that “I was taught fiction in school and I turned out okay.” Well, true, but how much time today do you spend in real things as compared to fictional pursuits? Do you like to learn how to improve the things around you in work or home, or is your focus on entertainment?
The problem with spending valuable classroom time teaching fiction is that the fiction-world and the non-fiction (or real) world get muddled in children’s minds. Every year as a teacher I would model science experiments for my students, or I would give them materials and directions for experiments, and EVERY TIME afterward I would have someone (usually one of the most intelligent students) come up to me and say, “Teacher, was that real?” That question was always a strange one to me, and yet year after year, the smartest kids would come up and ask me that.
You say, “Yeah, but they are still kids. As adults, they’ll figure it out.” Really? How many adults with a Masters Degree or a PhD in Business cannot find a job? If they truly looked at what they learned in education as something viable in their lives, wouldn’t they be able to start their own businesses if they saw what they learned as being something usable, instead of theory?
Americans today are focused on entertainment, not achievement. We value creativity over accuracy. One example was a news story reported on our local news station within this last week. There was a news release over the AP (Associated Press) wire that General Electric (GE) would repay $3.2 billion because of a public outcry at its unpaid taxes. This was sent out over the “wire” to every reporter in the US (and a great number abroad) without a single person checking for accuracy. In 35 minutes, it was proven that this was a complete fabrication – completely made up by someone wanting to make a point about corporate taxes, and yet it should never have been sent across the wire in the first place. News reporters, and particularly the Associated Press (the source for much of the national news), should have checked the accuracy of the statement instead of simply relaying information.
The scripture I listed above reveals this fact: “they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Are you interested in learning about things that will improve your life? Or do you spend your time filling your head with fables that don’t change anything? (NOTE: those fables don’t just apply to reading…. think about what you watch and how much time you spend on tv, videos, movies, sports, etc.)
I am not saying that fiction is evil and we should have nothing to do with it. I enjoy realistic fiction, with a little science fiction occasionally, but that should not be my focus, and it certainly should not be the focus of my schooling time with my daughter. Children in the Preoperational and Concrete stages of development WANT to learn about the world around them. That is what they are designed to do, explore. Just imagine how much better my daughter’s favorite book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” would have been had Eric Carle actually studied a real caterpillar, took photos, and listed items that it really ate in a seven day period. It would have gone from very good to AWESOME.
Kids below the age of twelve need to learn about the world around them. When they are taught fiction, they have a very hard time distinguishing reality from make-believe. Yes, they can tell you something is not real, but in the back of their head, they are not really sure. Beyond age twelve, they are preparing for their lives as adults. Why would we waste their time studying “Lord of the Flies?” It is a completely fictional book designed to teach a lesson which could instead be taught using accurate, historical events instead of William Golding’s semi-creative attempt at recreating a story about what could happen in an isolated society. No, I did not like Lord of the Flies, but that is not the point. The point is that had he researched a real tribe, of which I am sure there are many, or the survivors of a shipwreck, he could have made the same points, but more effectively and with more opportunities for further research.
Fiction is a form of enjoyment. Non-fiction is a form of learning. William Shakespeare once said, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.” Just because it is fiction does not mean children will enjoy it more. Children were designed to learn about the world around them. When they do so, they know they are spending their time in worthwhile pursuits, and they are much more focused and willing to explore further. That is the purpose of schooling.