I've always wondered why these genres are all but ignored in our English classrooms. There is such a wealth of beautiful writing in these imaginary worlds, yet many of us refuse to touch them with a twelve foot pole. Why is that? If you do teach sci-fi/fantasy, what are your favorite novels?
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I have not taught science fiction, although recently I have read and enjoyed many of the Star Wars books. There are actually plenty of good science fiction books of high literary quality out there. I have taught some that are in the fantasy and science fiction category, such as The Giver and The Hobbit. Students usually struggle a little with the unusual words and settings, but it helps prepare them for other more complicated works later.
I think certainly in my teaching context we are seeing a change in this trend. Sci Fi and Fantasy novels are becoming gradually more and more accepted into the curriculum, though only for lower grades. Novels such as The Hobbit and Ender´s Game are being seen more and more, as are works such as Harry Potter and His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. These works have definite literary merit, in my opinion, and it would be good for us all as teachers to seek to expand and develop the use of this genre in our curriculum. Above all, it "turns on" some types of student far more than other, more traditional novels.
Sci-fi and fantasy are becoming much more popular in entertainment today. Students will be more interested in reading things similar to what they see in movies and gaming. Before, when little sci-fi was taught, students couldn't wrap their minds around concepts so futuristic and abstract. My class in 9th grade read By the Waters of Babylon in the 1980's and could not interpret simple little clues showing how the past and the future had come together. A statue showing the letters ''ashing" was a nearly impossible leap to George Washington, even though the statue was described well enough to make the connection. With as much adolescent sci-fi literature coming to the screen, students minds will be more open. Practice reading this type of literature also helps broadens their reading conceptualization.
As someone stated earlier...there is little wiggle room in the curriculum for English classes. However, teachers who really want to use Sci-Fi/Fantasy can find a way to work it in. Essentially, I believe that many of us teacher how and what we ourselves have learned. I tend to focus on Romantic and Modern fiction because that's what I focused on in college. I also teach a lot of drama because that happens to be one of my research areas. As a side note, I teach Creative Writing at my school and I actually spend a large portion of a semester on learning, understanding and writing Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The students love it and it is a lot of fun.
I should also mention that I use "Harrison Bergeron" along with "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury when I read Fahrenheit 451. Lots of connnections between them.
I use "Harrison Bergeron" a lot. My students always love it. They're always slightly horrified at the ending and always make a joke about what the heck am I having them read, but they love it.
I agree that Sci-fi should be taught in the classroom , it is such a valid genre not to mention it really is some of the best social critiques we have from certain time periods, but I also wonder about speculative fiction. It is similar to the Sci-fi genre, but instead of being heavy with physics and actual "science-ness" it focuses on being "extra-human." It focuses on humanity, and all the "-isms" (sexism, racism, heternormatism). I find that within some districts where I work, the book selection seems to be geared more towards books boys like, to improve their reading. I have scene several science fiction novels used this way. I applaud the schools for incorporating them, however what about the girls? I would argue that sci-fi (as well as speculative fiction) should be used in the classroom, however I believe that one reason it is not in school is due to the fact it can alienate (no pun intended) groups of students within the classroom when dealing with the content.
I think the best place to use Sci-Fi literature is in the area of comparitive literature. Shakespeare and Isaac Asimov have much in common. And, Brave New World uses a number of quotes from Shakespeare.
To develop critical thinking skills, it is important for students to compare and contrast different literary works.
Harry Potter or Neo (from the Matrix) is a hero in the classic sense and could easily be compared to Hercules or Odesseus.
I suppose it isn't one of the main genres, but I know that much of Lord of the Rings (especially its precursor: The Hobbit) is included in the curriculums of the schools in which I have taught. Although I've never taught elementary or middle school, I wonder if the Harry Potter series is creeping into the core?
In regards to your actual question, I guess the answer is that usually a sci-fi/fantasy novel or series has an incredible backstory and/or universe that needs to be explained and studied as well (in order for us to fully understand it). Considering the limited time we have to spend on a particular unit, perhaps it is the amount of time it would take for exploration that is the main factor? Just a thought.
That being said, if you think your students would enjoy a good sci-fi/fantasy novel, I say GO FOR IT! : ) They will sense your excitement and "get into it" as well. : ) Or perhaps, if you think teaching an entire novel of that sort would be too much, feel free to use parts of these novels as excerpts to teach other literary concepts!
I studied with a scholar in graduate school who specialized in this type of literature. She taught a graduate seminar in Female Fantasy Writers that was amazing! We read the Earthsea Trilogy, The Mists of Avalon, and some other things I can't recall.
I myself have used some fantasy short fiction in my creative writing classes, by authors like Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen, Steven Millhauser and others. This is some of the finest contemporary fiction out there, so why not teach it?
In my district we had a sci-fi/fantasy unit. I didn't agree with the novel we chose, Calling B for Butterfly, but that is because it was out of print and very hard to get copies. There were teachers on other campuses that received permission to teach Harry Potter. I think the best way to handle Sci Fi/Fantasy as a unit is to have book clubs. This allows students to explore the genre without being forced into one book. A teacher offers the class four choices within the genre, then students have book club type assignments with these books. Here are some of the books kids can choose from off my school's list:
The Spiderwick Chronicles series
Artemis Fowl series
The City of Ember series
Inkheart Inkworld trilogy series
George’s Secret Key to the Universe
Warriors: The Power of Three series
Midnight for Charlie Bone
I don't think it's that we refuse to touch them with a ten-foot pole as much as some of our curriculums don't have the wiggle room to fit them in. I, for one, love sci-fi, but with a regimented Brit Lit or Am Lit curriculum and the "teaching to the standardized test because we MUST have proficient scores" mentality of schools, it's hard to do as much "fun" stuff. One of my favorite things of all time is time-travel books. I love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, and I'm reading the first in the Eye of the World series by Robert Jordan now.
I did not teach sci-fi/fantasy works in my classroom because I was not familiar with them from my own reading over the decades. I think if I had been a sci-fi reader as a young person, it definitely would have influenced my choices of what to teach in my classroom. I tended to choose classic literature as a teacher because that’s what I enjoy as a reader. One thing I did love to read as a kid was comic books; I used to wait at the drugstore every Wednesday for the delivery of the new Batman and Superman comics. As a teacher, I enjoyed drawing parallels between heroes of classic literature and heroes of the comics. It was a fun way to engage with my students, many of whom were serious fans of graphic novels, comics, and anime.
This the same exact reason why many people today argue that there is a lack of creativity being explored in today's schooling system. Then there is also the stressed importance of the SAT and ACT's. Two test that determine whether a high school student graduates or not and what type of college they are bound to go to. And since these test focus mainly on the classics schools are naturally going to be strict about the type of books that are incorporated into class curriculum.
LOL! "sci-fi virgins"
I think that the rich short story tradition of science fiction is often overlooked, particularly for reluctant readers. I keep anthologies in my room to loan. Many stories are short enough for a reluctant reader to finish in a single class period, and the right story can turn them on either to other works by the same author, other works in the same style or on the same topic, or even onto novels.
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