Monday, March 29, 2010

Discernment in Fiction

I have recently returned from vending at the UTCH homeschooling conference. It was an interesting experience, as always, with its usual mix of encouraging and discouraging.

One of the biggest challenges I always face is helping the conferees to understand why I promote fiction at an education venue.

This year I finally boiled my answer down to one sentence: Because fiction is the easiest and most practical way to practice discernment.

For most people agree that we need discernment more than ever in a world that excels at blurring the lines between right and wrong. Rather, the question is how do we learn discernment?

How do we learn anything, whether a foreign language or sports or music? Through practice.

However, practice is usually done under controlled and limited circumstances. But life is not controllable. It is not limited or focused or any of the other things that practice is.

This is where fiction comes in.

Fiction gives us hypothetical situations that mirror real life. We can vicariously experience things we’ve not yet encountered, and we can think through how we wish to respond if faced with a similar circumstance.

Fiction is limited. We can choose which books or movies we indulge in; we can decide which topics to broach.

Fiction provides time and room to ponder. Unlike life, we can set aside a book or pause a movie. We can stop and think about it for awhile before resuming the progress.

But perhaps most of all, fiction is repeatable. We can rewind a movie. We can reread a book. We can examine, compare, and then document our conclusions.

And this is why I believe fiction to be a necessary part of life.


Brandon Barr said...

I'm baffled that you'd need to defend reading fiction at an educational conference? Isn't literature a part of education? I graduated college with a degree in English and I was trained to teach students about literature--both how to analyze and discern the message of the story, but also to learn from quality stories just as you experience things through the characters that we haven't encountered, and how this allows us to imagine and think upon subjects beyond our current level of experience.
Isn't that part of school? Literature?

Chawna Schroeder said...

Ah, literature. There lies the rub. When I am a vendor, I offer contemporary Christian fiction, specializing in the sci-fi and fantasy genre. Hardly what most would consider "literature."

Rather, literature is perceived as belonging in one of two arenas: Classic books like Tale of Two Cities or Tom Sawyer; or morality tales written over fifty years ago. I offer neither. To most, what I offer is considered "fun reading," which is not part of a core study material. It is extra, something to keep voracious readers busy at best.

Never mind that some (although admittedly not all) the books I offer are classics in the making, and very few of the books on my list are pure "mind candy"--for a book to land on my table, it almost always has to combine good solid writing with great content. Nevertheless, that is how I am perceived, and thus I've had to learn to offer an explanation for my presence.

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Tracy Krauss said...

This reminds me of a fabulours book I read a number of years ago called "Children of a Greater God". I forget the authors name, but he was in praise of fiction (and fantasy) as way to enrich our world and even turm our heatrs toward God.

Chawna Schroeder said...

Tracy~I'm not familiar with the book you are talking about, but I couldn't agree more with the thought you offered. Our world--and maybe even our understanding of God--would be a much bleaker without story.