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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


Yet Another Cause

While my wife and I write books, and I keep up this blog, and we have our family, and life goes on within us and without us, we have also been leading a campaign to bring IB, the International Baccalaureate, to the public schools in our hometown. For those of you who don’t know, IB began as a program for expats and diplomats, who wanted to be sure their kids would get the same level of education no matter where they were in the world. As a result, it combined features of French/English/American practices. More recently, in the US, IB has been adopted by many public schools, and it is used both to raise standards and to motivate and engage students who might, for example, not be drawn to AP. Last Thursday, we brought in some IB teachers and two current IB students from Astoria, Queens to meet our community. And those students bring me back to the themes of this blog.

The striking thing about the students is how they have been taught to question, to examine, to look at a subject in many ways. In order to agree to be part of IB, French schools insisted that there be a Theory of Knowledge class, in eleventh or twelfth grade. So while students are learning biology, or math, or history, they are also learning about systems of knowledge, about what knowing itself is. And that is what I saw in those two students. I don’t mean that they knew the sophists’ tricks of turning questions back on themselves. Rather, that their training was in thinking, not parroting. They responded to questions by considering them, not just leaping for what they had memorized.

And that is what I keep stressing about nonfiction. We are modeling to young people how an adult can think about a topic, not just the results of his or her consideration. We are showing how we, as adults, bring ourselves to the process of learning, of knowing, how we marshall our minds, our research, our intuition, our storytelling skills, to pass on what we know. If we want young people to be like those two stellar students, we need to be open ourselves. We need to find ways to share our process of knowing, as well as the results of our searching. As one of the IB teachers — he specializes in Theater Arts — said, we teachers are no longer the ones who know and dispense knowledge. Instead students bring us what they discover, and we help them to make sense of it. Right on, brother, right on.