If your high school experience was anything like mine, it was filled with books that could be considered a form of torture. The Joy Luck Club, Les Miserables, The Scarlet Letter, Cry, the Beloved Country. Thank God for the handful of good books, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Macbeth.
And, more to the point of this article, we got to read Fahrenheit 451. And it was good. And it wasn’t just the change from heavy literary fiction. In fact, 451 came right on the tail-end of reading Tuesdays With Morrie, a rather enjoyable book.
For the most part, in fact, the only things I enjoyed reading from my high school read lists had something to do with magic (minus some Shakespeare and Cuckoo’s Nest) or the future/advanced technology. All that led me to thinking on this: why aren’t more required reading books genre fiction?
In elementary school, every chapter book I can remember reading (or having read to us) was genre fiction. Holes, The Giver, The Magician’s Apprentice, Captain Underpants (I had some weird teachers). And the books in those little libraries all the classrooms had? Genre fiction.
So…why does that immediately have to stop once we hit high school? I just don’t see why that makes any sense. I think there’s great value to having kids in school reading the fiction they like. Students would be more likely to pay attention.
‘But genre fiction doesn’t have any educational merit!’
Excuse my French, but bull hockey. Fantasy and science fiction are all about exercising the mind, enlivening thought. Which, in theory, is the point of English classes. We’re supposed to be analyzing the literature anyway—why not examine something interesting?
And there are plenty of examples of good work that would be appropriate for high school English classes. The Stepford Wives is a great example of minimalist fiction. Fahrenheit 451, Macbeth, and the Odyssey are already considered the ‘right kind of fiction’ for high school students. If The Giver is good for younger students, then give older students This Perfect Day. For juniors and seniors, try them out on The Left Hand of Darkness. Any of the short stories by Bradbury or Dick. Let’s be honest—they had me reading stuff by Anne McCaffrey in honors English. Why her and not Clarke? I’d even settle for Asimov or Herbert, as much as I don’t like them, because it would be a step in the right direction.
What about you? Do you think it’s worthwhile to make genre fiction the required reading for high school? Do you think it would work better?