Friday, February 12, 2010


Jay Mathews
The Washington Post

Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 2/9/2010

Students should read non-fiction.

Snowed in over the weekend with no chance of newspaper delivery, I had a taste of what my mornings will be like when we move to California. I will have to read the Post online. It is, I learned, blessedly convenient: click on “TODAY’S NEWSPAPER” at the very top of the home page and you get each story lined up from front page to last.

People like me worry that the newspaper habit many of us picked up in school will be lost in future generations. I remember being required to read enough of the San Francisco Chronicle front page when I was in elementary school to pass a short current events quiz. In high school, there were many projects and papers that required familiarity with the news.

For the next few weeks I am going to explore the future of news reading—and more broadly the whole matter of non-fiction in schools—to see if there isn’t a way to both preserve my generation’s allegiance to written news coverage with some depth and detail, and to add to schools something they have never had—a mission to instill a love of book-length non-fiction.

I hope you have some ideas about this, and can point me to teachers and schools that provide good examples. Newspapers may someday die, but my weekend experience proved that great news writing will survive online. Fiction has an iron grip on school reading assignments, but the histories and biographies that have made my adult reading so often a joy should be able to win more student attention than they have up to now.

Tablets, iPads, investigative web sites, news cooperatives—all the changes are bewildering. But we can’t let schools wander away from connecting students to writing about what is real, and keeping them in touch with the forces that will change their lives, and those of their children and grandchildren. We just need some creative ways to do it.

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By Jay Mathews | February 9, 2010; 5:30 AM ET | Permalink | Comments (7) 
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: decline of newspaper reading, lack of non-fiction in schools, news on the web, non-fiction reading in schools, non-fiction writing

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