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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

3.6 Is Worse Than It Looks

I’ve Been Throwing Some Numbers Around Here — the 80% Assignments stat (which some of you have questioned) and Nell Duke’s 3.6 minutes on nonfiction texts. Well if you look at her article the story is significantly worse than that. She observed 20 different classrooms, and she found in these early years another divide that we have not talked about enough yet — income, class, $. That is, in low socio-economic-status schools, the amount of time spent on non-fiction daily dropped to a sub-dismal 1.9 minutes (I’ve just lost my link to the article, so correct me if I’m slightly off).

In a nutshell, this is the problem with offering education as the road out of poverty — impoverished education, which then accumulates disadvantage for young people. While kids in wealtheir schools and areas are beginning to be introduced to the world, to thinking, to people and places far away — to, in other words, the global environment in which they will make their futures — kids in poorer schools are deprived on contact with horizons beyond their own. They are trapped in ignorance. 

You may recall that the first big number I was distressed about in this blog was 50%, the 50% of African American kids who will not graduate high school. I would bet that the teachers who show those kids 1.9 minutes of nonfiction a day believe that old phrase — learn to read, then read to learn. In other words, their challenge is to get kids reading. But it seems obvious to me that learning gives kids a reason a read. That was certainly true for me as a child. I only wanted to read when those black squiggles on a page offered me something I wanted to know. You could argue that kids in poorer schools have all the more need for nonfiction — they need tools — they need equipment for life. They need to know there is a world out there, beyond their horizons, waiting for their skills and intelligence. Or even, they need to know who won last night’s game — every day’s newspaper is filled with stats, stories, expository writing, heroes, drama. Why doesn’t every class begin with looking at the paper?

1.9 is up there with 50% — two national disgraces.


  1. Mary Ann C. says:

    I teach a course in children’s and young adult nonfiction at the graduate school level. What is clear at the beginning of each class is that many teachers had little to no experience reading nonfiction as a child and if they did, it was negative. They know they should be providing more opportunities for their students to read nonfiction, but they themselves don’t have a sense of what is out there. Moreover, lingering fears about nonfiction being dull have prevented them taking the initiative on their own. But at the end of the course, they have a very different perspective. From having the exposure to quality nonfiction, students are excited and motived to scaffold it into their teaching across the curriculum. I’d like to know how many other universities offer graduate or undergraduate courses specifically in nonfiction for education students. Doing a more thorough job of teaching teachers about nonfiction will go a long way in changing how students experience it in the classroom.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Mary Ann:

    Sounds like just the right approach, do we have any information on other grad schools?