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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


I live an interesting life: I get to research and write books that put me in touch with academic experts; I teach at Rutgers so I get to hear from colleagues like Ross Todd and the CISSL group about the latest research on, say, how young people use information; I write for young people so I am invited to schools; I know something about the Common Core so I get to meet teachers and librarians; I know many book publishers who need to learn more about kids, books, learning, and the Common Core; and I hear from you all here and in personal contacts. So I get a pretty good cross section of how everyone involved in the chain from idea to reader and back is handling the combination of transformation in education and shifts in technology. As one exceptionally knowledgable book publisher put it to me yesterday, we have “pandemonium.”

The word itself, if capitalized, is the capital of Hell in Pardise Lost, and Milton actually invented it (easy to see the origins: all demons). There is something apt about that as reversals run through so many of our recent fantasy and paranormal romance novels: Daughter of Smoke and Bone; the Golden Compass trilogy; even in a sense Twilight — Vampire = love = vampire = restraint = love. Something about our moment makes that judo move where hell is heaven and heaven is hell appealing to us. And just at the same time as we play with that device in fiction, in reality our schools are experiencing the lower case meaning of the term: uproar, chaos.

That, friends, is the good news. If anyone thinks they have a slam dunk answer on how to deal with CC, the digital world, students, and schools they are lying or misguided. We are in a time of exploration for everyone — how should a writer write? an editor edit? a publisher publish? a parent, teacher, or librarian purchase — right now these are questions, not answers. To take one simple example: a year or two ago I wrote hear in high excitement about smart boards. And, indeed, they have spread across our school systems like kudzu — where they are used, often as not, as very expensive homes for post in notes. Will ereaders repeat that story or change it? What will the CC look like when, as Jeff asked a few days ago, we have the assessments? Will we be back to NCLB high stakes, with CC as mere verbiage? Or will CC be the true transformation it can and should be. Why is this good news? Because we are in a time of experiment, that is all any of us can do: read, work with kids, pay attention learn, try, and report back. That is my fantasy novel reversal: pandemonium is good because in the chaos we are freed to experiment and learn. What could be better?


  1. Sue Bartle says:

    e-readers will succeed if the publishers let them.
    My example, I just got back from a site visit to one of my districts. They are buying 18 more e-readers right now! Why? Because they see the demand by students that want to read! Even in tight budget times schools see the value and excitement that e-readers have on student reading interest!

    My example of why publishers could make e-land of readers and books sink.
    I just looked at Tim Weiner’s Enemies: A History of the FBI online at B&N and Amazon. It is $19.27 for the hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. The price difference is just $4.28 – why?

    If I buy in print I can lend and lend and lend this book. If I buy it as a e-book I might be able to lend it once. Why do I have to pay $14.99 for the e-book when all I need to do is tap a button and I bought it within 30 to 45 seconds. No brick and mortar – the infrastructure has already been established.

    Why? Why? Why? Right now if I buy this title as an e-book I am paying for the privilege of immediate access. Is it too great a price? I believe it is – so off to the bookstore I will go or order it online and then the bookstore has to put it in a box and mail it to me – which will cost them even more because I can get free shipping.

    e-book prices continue to creep up – where does this end?
    Right now it ends with this purchaser looking at all prices and all formats before decide which way to purchase. I own eight devices that I can read e-books on and I are committed to this movement but not if the publishers keep rising the prices like this.

    I do workshops on e-readers and e-books and I tell everyone that the demand to have e-readers and e-books is great but you need to be a savvy shopper and look at all aspects of your e-book purchases – print vs. electronic vs paperback vs used?
    You need to decide which books will read better in print vs. electronic format.

    Recently, I purchased Marc’s book Trapped for all my e-readers and a print copy to see what the difference is. My recommendation – buy it in print. The charts in the e-book format are anchored and can’t be enlarged to read sufficiently.

    There is great value to our experiments as I see students that normal would not pick up one book but when handed an e-reader will try to tackle the whole trilogy. This is what makes my heart sing! Publishers please don’t silence this song!

  2. Jeff Kresge says:

    “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the education world as storms in the physical.” – Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, January 30, 1787

    Okay, so I’m twisting Mr. Jefferson’s words a bit, but as true educator, I’m certain he wouldn’t mind. As you noted, Marc, it seems that the seas of education are as turbulent as I have seen then in my sixteen years in the field. However, the reason many people enter education is a burning desire to learn and grow as people and as professionals. Should we not have upheaval, I would think education would become boring, and even more dangerous, stagnant.

    People on the outside looking in fail to understand the tremendous change education has undergone in just the past few years. Parents will ask if they can have a textbook at home to aid their child. While I appreciate the desire to assist, a textbook will not help for the many reasons pointed out previously here.

    Although no one really seems to know exactly where all of this change is heading, educators need to embrace that feeling of being part of the grand experiment. We need to seize the feeling of not knowing, of being part of the process to improve, and regain our motivation in the quest for learning. It will allow us to reconnect with what our students are going through and remind us to pass that joy of uncertainty and of the quest to find ever better answers onto our children. No one is motivated by facts, but by challenges and improvement. The task before all of us can be daunting, but I’m certain the Miracle on Ice wouldn’t have been so if the U.S. was playing the Djiboutian ice hockey squad.

    Afterall, , in the same letter to Madison, Jefferson remarked, “It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” The same can be said for rebellion in education.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    great point — as educators we need to embrace learning, which means heading into uncharted seas; it just occured to me that in technology we have made the transition from the old view: “don’t buy that X now, wait until things settle down,” because we realize things do not settle down: you buy a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a smart phone not because all the bugs are out and you are certain this is the right device but, rather, to get into the game and learn as you go. We accept that — or, indeed, must accept it — in digital technology. We need to recognize that in the world of Moore’s Law where computer speed keeps doubling, ideas keep changing to — and without the certainty of settled answers. We need to keep learning in education the same way we keep learning about the next device — and the next set of languages and social consequences that comes with that relase.