What non-fiction books should students read? Jay Mathews is looking for suggestions.
Elie Wiesel’s Night, about his boyhood in the Holocaust, and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, about his childhood abuse, are the only non-fiction books on Accelerated Reader’s list of top 20 books read by high schoolers, Mathews points out.
Will Fitzhugh, who publishes student research papers in the Concord Review, complains that students have little exposure to non-fiction.
A relatively new trend in student writing is called “creative nonfiction.” It makes Fitzhugh shudder. “It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in ‘essay contests’ by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as ‘How do I look?’ and ‘What should I wear to school?’” he said in a 2008 essay for EducationNews.org.
Students have trouble understanding non-fiction because it “requires more factual knowledge.” Channeling E.D. Hirsch, Mathews writes:
Students don’t know enough about the real world because they don’t read non-fiction and they can’t read non-fiction because they don’t know enough about the real world.
On my father’s recommendation, I read John Hersey’s Hiroshima when I was in high school. I also read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman and a lot of American history. But I don’t think teachers assigned non-fiction ever. My daughter was assigned Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters First 100 Years, which she thought was added to the reading list for diversity rather than literary quality. Memoirs seem to be the only form of non-fiction that students are asked to read.