Can We Teach with Fiction?

Is fiction a good way to teach things? If so, can it be used to teach concepts like history and science?

I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to sit down with a good historical novel than a history book. I learn a lot from characters, and I jules vern booklike the omniscient view novels usually provide. Not to mention dialog is a lot easier to get through than long paragraphs of facts.

Fiction makes things come alive. We can learn certain truths through well written fiction. We can learn about character motivations, political strife, or the effect of technology on the way people behave.

But fiction does more than just show us scenarios of human behavior. It inspires us to pursue further knowledge. How many scientists were inspired by all those Star Trek series? Before Gene Roddenberry there were Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne.

How many future police detectives were inspired by Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot?

Want to learn about the French Revolution? Read an unabridged edition of Les Miserables (go ahead, I dare you).

I don’t argue with the stress educators are putting on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). These subjects are important foundations to success in modern society. However, I would argue that a good, solid liberal arts education can lead to success in life, too.

The intelligentsia of the Renaissance had it right: We need a wide ranging knowledge base. More importantly, we need a drive to learn more about everything—especially subjects in which we might not otherwise be interested. This is more important in an era when we are spoon fed information by computer logarithms based on our web surfing habits.

Fiction can help by making unfamiliar subjects more interesting and by sparking in us the urge to learn more.