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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Teacher and Librarian Side

On Nonfiction and Primary School

Thanks Becky for your suggestions. What I see in all of your posts is that 1) through fourth grade kids are not getting enough content 2) some teachers themselves do not understand the content they are teaching 3) there is an emphasis on the local and personal that does not match well with some kids’ broader interests. Now obviously this is a tiny, self-selected survey. And please do continue to post to tell your story, to prove me wrong, to show what I am not seeing. But I wonder, how could this have happened? How could we so miss our obligation to kids, our interest in teaching science, social studies, world history? When did this shift happen? 

Teachers, tell me — when you go to Ed School, where does your training direct you? Is all of the instruction on technique? If so, isn’t some part of that about how to teach primary school social studies? Instruct us — we only see the results in the classrooms, we don’t know the theory, the training behind it. I have to assume that teachers of education for the primary grades know that many young people are interested in Egypt, Dinosaurs, Vikings, Pirates, Alexander the Great, George Washington, William the Conqueror, famous cars, sports teams and stars, Pokemon cards (this list supplied by my 7 year old, who is sitting next to me). So what does Ed School tell you to do with that interest?

We are seeing from parents that they are puzzled and distressed; now, teachers and librarians: explain the situation to us. Help us to understand so that, instead of complaining, we can learn how to improve things. I want my sons to find school to be a place the rewards and stimulates their curiousity about the world. Don’t we all? How can we fix this? NCLB may be part of the problem, but it cannot be the whole story. Tell us more.


  1. Monica Edinger says:

    My fellow classroom teachers do not seem to comment here so here I am again, the one voice from those quarters, the bad penny. For answers to your questions, I urge you to check out the professional organizations (NCTE is here in NYC starting tomorrow), read their journals (NCSS and NCHE are two organizations that might give you a sense of things), head over to some of the nearby professional schools to find out what they are doing (I’ve hired wonderful young teachers from Teachers College, Bank Street, and NYU for instance and worked with others on NEH projects from all over the country), and check out advocacy organizations like Rethinking Schools. And, by the way, I do think most of this is the result of NCLB and other government involvement in education. And isn’t just here, similar issues exist in the U.K. The overemphasis on testing, the intense focus on teacher accountability (how about those NYC schools and their grades this past week?), scripted curriculum, top-down mandates, and more make it pretty tough for the average classroom teacher to do the sort of in depth teaching I’m fortunate enough to do in my school. (Central Park East 1, a highly lauded progressive public school here, received a D grade last week from the city school authority here.)

  2. Becky at Farm School says:

    Much of what Monica mentions regarding NYC (where I was born and raised and attended private school through 12th grade) holds true for the public school system in rural western Canada, too, though the country doesn’t have a formal No Child Left Behind Program. But we do have, as Monica lists, “the overemphasis on testing, the intense focus on teacher accountability … scripted curriculum, top-down mandates, and more”. And a close relative who’s a teacher complains about all the extra administrative tasks that take away time from teaching; apparently computers have made things more, not less, complex.

    Exactly how this all came about, I’m not sure. I am fairly certain, though, that the answer isn’t more money, as the teachers’ union and parents keep insisting. And of course, the more money the school system gets, the more “accountability” the government insists upon.