Why Teach Novels: Part I

On Friday, my department spent half the day updating our curriculum map. In looking at the novels we’d chosen as anchor texts, one of our number wondered aloud the point of teaching novels when what we’re preparing students for is the PARCC. The PARCC, as with any K-12 standardized test, doesn’t require students to read particularly long texts.

I had responses in the moment, but decided to think on it before I popped off with the answer, “Why shouldn’t we teach novels?” So I went to Twitter, and said

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js#edchat and #engchat didn’t let me down.

I totally agree. On both points. I think readers can learn empathy from short stories. But the amount of time readers spend with characters in short stories (especially those read in schools) is not the same amount of time readers spend with characters in novels. I think the length of time spent with characters in different spaces, in different walks of life is important for the development of empathy. One short interaction with someone can be meaningful, yes, but there is also value in repeated interaction over time. Not to mention that teaching empathy is hard. I hope that the conversations the readers with whom I work have with me helps them on that path, especially since the small town they live in isn’t very diverse and doesn’t provide them with many opportunities to see/experience/know cultures outside the community.

Novels are a risk-free way of experiencing other places, cultures, people, and/or mischief. (For me, definitely mischief. I was always to scared of my mom to get into any trouble.) It’s a way we can see how our cultures are not so different from other cultures, while simultaneously seeing how wildly different we are from other people around the world. I wrote a song to this effect sometime last school year. Maybe I should play it for her.


So they will get woke and stay woke. My friend Josè (who is a university dean) told me that people should read/learn as much as they can so they can recognize BS when it’s presented to them as the unalterable truth.

But the response I loved the best was from Tom Angleberger, author of the Origami Yoda novels. He put things in perspective.


Such a good thing to remember. Common Core, and the way we assess students (though sometimes it seems like things will never change), is just one point in a long series of points that mark the changes in educational policy.

Thanks to the teachers and authors who replied.  Next week, Part II.

What do you think? Why should we teach novels?

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