Finally, some compelling evidence that teaching literature, especially teaching students the importance of experiencing literature, is completely worthwhile! In fact, I mentioned in an interview today that learning to develop perspective through reading literature develops empathy and a greater understanding of how they fit in to society. I know experiencing literature often gets trampled in the name of getting “valuable skills” across to students, but what could be more valuable than a society of empathetic individuals who want to understand one another?
Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, recently argued in the New York Times that we ought not to claim that literature improves us as people, because there is no “compelling evidence that suggests that people are morally or socially better for reading Tolstoy” or other great books.
Actually, there is such evidence. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories…
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