Wiggins: Proposal to ‘Ban Fiction Books’ Was a Hoax

By Liana Loewus — December 29, 2010 2 min read
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Grant Wiggins, the blogger who created a stir by writing that all fiction books should be banned from the English curriculum because boys find them boring, says his proposal was meant to be sarcastic. Wiggins received 84 comments—many of them irate—on his blog post and has since removed it from the ASCD EDge social networking site.

Considering the plethora of comments our own Teaching Now coverage of Wiggins received, including one from an incredulous reader who said we’d surely represented “Wiggins’ logic poorly,” we decided to go straight to the source—and interview Wiggins himself.

The author and education consultant, who co-wrote Understanding By Design, told us he’d decided to take the blog post down “in light of all the nasty comments it was generating,” including as many as 40 “ad hominem attacks.”

“People didn’t get the spirit of what I was doing,” Wiggins said. “Irony and sarcasm doesn’t work well on Web. So, I thought, to hell with it.”

The post, Wiggins added, was meant to invoke A Modest Proposal, the satirical essay from 1729 in which Jonathan Swift argues that the solution to Ireland’s economic woes is to eat poor children. The idea for the blog post, Wiggins said, stemmed from a survey he is conducting on what students like and dislike about school. Boys dislike English class more than any other course, Wiggins found.

And while Wiggins insists his post was satirical, he defends the notion that boys are often bored by the books on traditional reading lists and that teachers should rethink this material. “I believe we read too much fiction and I believe too much of the fiction we read is not liable to be liked, and indeed is not liked, by a majority of boys.” Educators should stop blaming kids for their disengagement, and instead listen to their interests, he said.

In reacting to the blog post, many commenters accused Wiggins of being sexist. Some pointed to a quote Wiggins included from his son: “Dad, English class is just an earnest woman talking with earnest young women about stuff of no interest to guys.” Billy Ivey, a middle school teacher and dean, and member of the Teacher Leaders Network, wrote on the Independent School Educators Network that Wiggins’ blog post “veered into sheer, unapologetic misogyny.”

Wiggins responded that initially, those kinds of remarks “didn’t make sense to me at all. But when I read over the post I could sort of see it. The point was to talk about the plight of male students, not to complain about too many female English teachers.”

Other readers refuted their understanding of Wiggins’ point by citing their own enjoyment of reading fiction.

But it’s not about what they like, said Wiggins, it’s about what kids like. “I think that’s a huge problem in this business,” said Wiggins. “From beginning to end, I’m in this for the kids. I wish teachers would stop taking things so personally.”

An ASCD spokesperson said it is “disappointing” that the blog post was removed from the EDge, but that the group does not have the ability to put it back up. Wiggins said he has no plans to repost the entry in its current form. He is, however, considering rewriting it.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.