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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

What Is The Road to Literacy — Interest or Content?

Did You Catch This Piece in the Times During the August Vacation Days? As you all surely know, Lucy Calkins of Teachers College at Columbia believes that the road to literacy runs through choice: let kids find what interests them, and they will be interested in reading. And as you may recall from the Culture Wars, E. D. Hirsch believes there is a "core" of knowledge that we all need, and that schools must impart. These two views do not necessarily clash — as I have often argued here, for those of us who love nonfiction, and perhaps more generally for boys, knowledge is interesting. (An aside here — the libraries we visited during our vacation were wonderful, full of great resources for our boys, but I could not help noticing that the summer reading lists for K-6th grade contained not one single nonfiction book. Not one — no joke books, no experiments, no books of facts, no sports bios, no books on gaming, or technology, no math puzzles, no fun outdoor science, none. If the readers of this blog can do anything, please work with your school systems to change this by next year. Summer reading is pure pleasure, why not include the many, many forms of pure pleasure nonfiction?)

So you can link "choose your own books" with a shelf of "books on things you need to know." But in reality schools do tend to choose — more Calkins or more Hirsch, and as the Times explains, a test of 10 schools in New York are switching Hirschward. I am interested to see how this works out. I do think knowing some things is important — in fact it stimulates interest. Because a kid knows about dinosaurs, he can be interested in fossils, or extinction theories, or evolution and birds. If he was not first introduced to the terrible lizards, he would not have any reason to read a second third or tenth book about them. So to begin that process of interest and curiousity we do need to make sure young kids, elementary school kids, know enough to stimulated by the next offering on a shelf.

What do you think? Calkins, Hirsch, or a mixture you have found on your own?