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Should Science Fiction Be Mandatory for Students?

Should Science Fiction Be Mandatory for Students?

A Republican politician from West Virginia wants to make works of science fiction compulsory reading in his state’s middle and high school curricula. The reason is, according to the pending bill, to “promote interest in and appreciation for the study of math and science among students is critical to preparing students to compete in the workforce and to assure the economic well being of the state and the nation.”

Could reading the likes of The Postman and Speed of Dark instill an interest in one of the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — in teenagers?

West Virginia State delegate Ray Canterbury believes the former. He has proposed the bill to the West Virginia Board of Education out of the specific wish “stimulate interest in math and science among students.” (Such educational issues seem to be one of his concerns; another bill proposed by Canterbury calls for prohibiting the use of “calculators for teaching purposes” for K-8 students).

Noting that he is himself a fan of the works of Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne, Canterbury emphasizes that he is not referring to “fantasy novels about dragons” but “things where advanced technology is a key component of the storyline, both in terms of the problems that it presents and the solutions that it offers.”

Asserting their support for Canterbury’s bill are writer David Brin and James Gunn, the founder of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at Kansas University, who points out that

Because science fiction incorporates the one thing that is undeniably true in today’s fiction — that the world is changing — it has the capability of shaping that change as well as adjusting to it. As I say in my signature motto, “Let’s save the world through science fiction.”

Science fiction has the capability, at its best, of exercising the rational portions of the brain.

Brin also underscores the value of reading science fiction in a world full of change. Noting how works like George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” can be seen as “self-fulfilling prophecies,” Brin emphasizes how science fiction can give us a sense of what — given predictions and trends about global warming, the melting of arctic sea ice, rising sea levels, habitat loss and more — could befall us. Like Canterbury, he is wary of some works of science fiction, especially many recently published that are “either gloomy dystopias or else fantasy tales wallowing in dreamy yearnings for a beastly way of life called feudalism.”

The latter could be a (rather cynical) reference to “The Hunger Games” or even be extended to works like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which shows the power plus the potential misuses of science, with a message warning us of our limits. Brin offers suggestions for a number of science fiction books that “wrestle with concepts at the very cutting edge” and ways to encourage the writing of “new and better” science fiction works for kids.

Brin and Gunn focus rather on science fiction’s capacity to inspire an interest in science and its use in solving the problems of the world. Canterbury, too, seems to see science and science fiction performing such a role. In his own state of West Virginia, a “bit of a Calvinistic attitude toward life” exists, he says. Science fiction imagines alternate scenarios rather than suggesting we are destined to be stuck in the same old circumstances.

Science fiction works including Orwell’s “1984” have long been on school reading curricula. Given repeated reports and statistics of the U.S.’s lack of STEM professionals, could newer science fiction titles make a real difference not only in an English class curriculum, but in math and science classes?

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11:35PM PST on Dec 30, 2014

SPAM flagged

8:06AM PDT on Jun 13, 2013

why not? It DOES open the mind, and every genre has something to offer!

2:40PM PDT on May 7, 2013

I tend to think there should be a sampling of every genre.
Read mystery and you learn how to sort through clues to come through a conclusion, a theory and gave it proven or disproved.
The advantage of science fiction means expanding the 'what ifs' in the realm of science. Fantasy and myth encourage learning morale values and culture differences and values. They've been used that way since man first began to teach the next generation.
I'll never forget the first time I saw the Star Trek episode about the guys with half black face, half white face. The only difference was which half was black. They hated each other and destroyed their world. It was a amazing and obvious blast at racism. Yet it got through censors in a day when such things were not discussed on TV. By today's standards it might seem cheesy, but modern science fiction continues the trend of daring to discuss social issues as well as exploring science.

This is why it sci fi should be read, and why some probably fear it, even more than encouraging science. Because by placing the issues in a different time, be it a science fiction future or a fantasy with dragons, they can challenge perspective and turn set in concrete beliefs on there head. We can be far more certain of our own beliefs if they withstand such challenges and a good deal better at explaining them without resorting to denigrating others.

You can't completely separate myth from history, because ancient cultures really believed in it. Viking

8:18PM PDT on May 6, 2013

Science fiction as a literary genre is long as REAL SCIENCE is also taught. Where are we? West Virginia? Oh, one of THOSE states. Hmmm....wonder how this squares with evolution, and all the biological sciences? Do they even teach these in that state? Or do those first year med students in WV think that storks bring babies?

6:13PM PDT on May 5, 2013

Effie, among the first people NASA sought out when we began thinking about mankind moving into space were the great Science Fiction writers of that day. Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein & others were asked to share their knowledge & ideas with NASA.

8:39AM PDT on May 5, 2013

Science Fiction can be a great resource of mindful stimulation for future technologies and the issues that surround them. I love the idea of encouraging youth to read them and be inspired, not by horror or fantasy, but by the possibilities of genius. If you can think it, it is possible. If you look at some of the research and discoveries that are happening everyday, there are many who would think they are science fiction, but they are not...Perhaps offering these as an option for extra credit would be a start.

5:03PM PDT on May 1, 2013

I think all works or literature has it's value. The goal should get students to read; not tell them what to read.

2:10PM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

It shouldn't be any more or any less mandatory than other literary genres. Why do Republicans turn everything into an angle to play up and further their ideologies and agendas?

12:33PM PDT on Apr 30, 2013


11:41AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

Only if it's balanced out by aesthetic, arts, and/or spiritual studies. Science tries to explain, it has little in the way of understanding why something IS the way it is... so, there's an imbalance, and we've already got completely unbalanced human beings running amok in this world.

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