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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Habits of Mind

34 Percent

Take a look at that headline, 34 percent. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, that is the percentage of high school seniors nationwide who graduate ready for college. Here the article, for those who want to read more So basically two out of three students who complete high school, who pass all their tests, are not ready either to go to college or, thus, to gain the skills they will need in the work force. To me this number brings together what I’ve been talking about in recent columns — the need for more resources for students, digital as well as human, and the opportunity for new thinking presented by the internet. As you will see if you read the article, Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, explained that teachers need to know their subjects at a college level in order to pass on the kind of critical thinking skills students need.

Here is the problem from the point of view of an author, or publisher. If you write a book that expects critical thinking from a student, how do you get past a teacher who may find that approach distressing, troubling, rather than liberating? If you write a book that dutifully tracks through facts easily available elsewhere, who needs it? This is like the issue of context, but it is a matter of intellectual context — how do you speak to the bright minds of students around the corner of a teacher who has only limited training in a discipline and may not recognize the value of fresh thinking? In other words, how we can we who write books for libraries and bookstores, not textbooks sold to whole districts, compensate for the limitations of the current school system? 

I wish those teachers who are struggling with social studies could get just a hint, a taste, of the freshness of the new history. If they could just pass on to their students the sense that history is not dead, it is not a rehash, it is a great adventure in knowing. Just that should help inspire some of those 66 percent of high school graduates to be curious, and want to explore more. That is the first step toward being a college student.


  1. Monica Edinger says:

    I suggest considering how to work WITH teachers rather than always thinking about how to get past and around them. Teachers are a lot more open to new ideas when they come from those who truly understand what they do — who have been there too and/or those who are sympathetic to their situation rather than dismissive of them.

    Frankly, what’s in the books matters far less than what the teacher and students are doing with them. You can build (write) it, but whether anything happens depends on those teachers.

  2. Betty Carter says:

    I’m thinking that working WITH teachers is more complicated. What Marc appears to be underscoring is that great teachers and great students are both learners. But, it appears to me that often the system within which teachers work asks them to be knowers. As teachers we’re often asked to defend (and “know”) many elements, such as the best assessment tools within the system in which we work, the curriculum restrictions/demands, the ways to encourage parents to work with their children, the ways to manage a class,. So, there appears to me to be a built in bifurcation which leads to an entirely different conundrum.