You may have heard that the new Common Core State Standards that are being phased in by the majority of states over the next couple years seem to recommend an increase in the reading of "informational text" (I say "seem to recommend" because I personally find the description of the Common Core State Standards on the official website nearly incomprehensible). If this means reading more primary sources across disciplines (i.e. The Federalist Papers in History or Government class) and/or reading relevant secondary nonfiction across disciplines (such as The Botany of Desire in Biology class), I think it sounds great. [Here's a moving description of the revolutionary impact of writing across the curriculum in a struggling high school; I think reading across the curriculum would also have a salutary effect].
But some educators are assuming the "informational text" reading will take place primarily in English classes or during what would be fiction-and-poetry-reading time; thus according to the Washington Post, they read the new standards as a "call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade
students will be reading mostly 'informational text' instead of
fictional literature" (italics mine). Many English teachers are rightly alarmed that this interpretation of the new standards devalues literature (and the humanities more generally), depriving students of the wisdom they can gain from deep engagement with literary texts. The Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers devoted volume 5 of the publication Forum to critiquing the anti-humanities bias underpinning the Common Core State Standards and other education reform efforts. This volume, "What is Education? A Response to the Council on Foreign Relations Report 'U.S. Education Reform and National Security,'" is described here and available for free download here. I found it very compelling.
Sara Mosle points out in an op-ed in the New York Times that "informational text" can be part of the domain of the humanities, that "informational text" doesn't have to mean technical reports or train schedules, but that there is much wonderful literary nonfiction that students could read. Indeed The National Endowment for the Humanities is crowdsourcing the creation of new summer nonfiction reading lists to supplement their popular summer fiction lists. You can go to the NEH website to recommend good nonfiction titles for various reading levels.
I've been surprised and pleased by how much my 8-year-old son N. enjoys nonfiction reading because I didn't discover its pleasures until adulthood when I was introduced to The New Yorker and other literary nonfiction prose. My husband, who loves well-written nonfiction himself, has used it as a foundation of our son's education so far, reading aloud to him everything from autobiographies to science to history; he even recently checked out a book called The Best Writing on Mathematics to see if it contained anything that might be accessible to N. For his own pleasure reading, N. is drawn to nonfiction even more than fiction, much as he loves the latter. N.'s daily reading is most often Trains magazine, Classic Trains magazine, National Geographic, books about train history, and books about buildings. And he loves to get what he calls "information books" from the library. But I work to make sure he doesn't neglect fiction and poetry by reading both aloud to him daily and nudging him to make time for his own literary reading. Since I've seen how much my son has enjoyed and learned from nonfiction, I hope that the Common Core State Standards will be interpreted by teachers and school administrators to widen students' exposure to good writing across fields of inquiry rather than to reduce their engagement with literature.