Even as a kid who loved to read from pretty much the first time I could grasp the concept, it was tough dealing with all the assigned reading in school. Not because the material was challenging to grasp or to get through. No, I was more concerned that it was wasting time I could have spent winding my way through the worlds of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, and all the other names adorning the spines of the classic sci-fi paperbacks that packed my dad’s closet floor to ceiling. Who’s to say I couldn’t learn just as much about life and humanity from those books as I could from the mandatory Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and so forth?
Well, there’s at least one guy out there who agrees with me. Republican Delegate Ray Canterbury, of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, has put forward a motion to the Board of Education moving that “grade-appropriate science fiction literature” be added to the state’s middle-school and high-school curriculum. He’s actually introduced the proposal once before, but he’s resurrecting the bill again in hopes it will either pass outright or at least convince the Board to consider the merits of adding science fiction to schools.
Canterbury is a lifelong science fiction fan, but his reasoning for wanting it introduced to the school system is tied to a problem that’s facing our nation as a whole: namely, that we’re falling behind in the fields of math and science. Many modern scientists cite influences such as Star Trek as inspiring them to pursue a career in the sciences, and Canterbury believes that can happen again if kids are exposed to science fiction early on.
Canterbury told Blastr:
In Southern West Virginia, there’s a bit of a Calvinistic attitude toward life—this is how things are and they’ll never be any different. One of the things about science fiction is that it gives you this perspective that as long as you have an imagination and it’s grounded in some sort of practical knowledge, you can do anything you wanted to. So it serves as a kind of antidote to that fatalistic kind of thinking.
Science fiction also encourages curiosity, imparts a sense of wonder and appreciation for our universe, and could also serve as an important step in shaping young minds in one other way: it is often an inherently optimistic and hopeful genre. Even the bleakest of envisioned dystopias, at the very least, usually imagine a future where humanity, as a species, has carries on. As we stand on the precipice of many daunting challenges that will shape the future of our world, as well as our continued existence on it, science fiction can serve as a challenge, and invitation to build the future we dream of, and to aspire to be better than we have been before.
Sounds like a damn good lesson for kids to learn if you ask me.
Header image by the late, ridiculously talented Robert McCall