A lot of people are unbearably snooty about genre fiction – especially SF, fantasy and horror. I’m not the first to remark on this – the debate rages daily across the interwebs. But I think I’ve finally worked out why there are so many folk who feel this way.
It’s all the fault of education.
Consider this interesting fact: in 1968, NASA developed a test to measure creativity. The test was given to over a thousand kindergarten children. 98% scored genius level. When the same test was given to adults, how many do you think ranked as genius? The answer’s just 2%. Think about that for a minute.
Recently, Sir Ken Robinson picked up on this bit of research to illustrate his belief that schools kill creativity. I’m inclined to agree. More specifically – and to return to my argument – I think the priority given to academic achievement at school crushes the urge to read highly creative fiction.
When we’re little, the books we read are full of monsters and magic and strange twisted worlds. As we grow up we’re encouraged to put such stories aside for more ‘adult’ fare. By the time we’re in our teens, what’s on the curriculum? An endless stream of so-called ‘classics’. I don’t know about you, but I never read Thomas Hardy for pleasure. No wonder so many kids get turned off reading. Offer them a chance to study Douglas Adams for their GCSEs and I guarantee an upsurge of interest.
And it’s not just reading that suffers. It’s the whole gamut of right-brain activity: lateral thinking, intuition, creativity. I speak from experience. I attended a grammar school whose sole purpose was to get its students accepted at either Oxford or Cambridge University. I’m proud to say I spent most of my time in the art department and eventually found my way to a college that taught life drawing and sculpture. But I had to fight all the way. Alas for all those poor souls who chose the darker path.
I submit to you that those of us who read and write stories about ghosts and demons and time travel are part of that 2% who have managed to retain their childhood sense of wonder. In short, their genius. We’ve always known we’re in the minority. Now we know why.
As genre fans, you and I therefore have a collective responsibility to educate those around us who missed out first time round. Next time you’re on the train, make sure the book you take has a particularly lurid cover featuring spaceships, fire-breathing dragons or nasty things with tentacles. Preferably all three. Wave your book in the air. Read it with a large grin on your face. Brandish it at the sneering businessman intent on his copy of Left-Brain Monthly. You never know, someone might get the message.
At the very least, you can feel smug in the knowledge that your brain is superior to that of everyone else in the carriage.
(By the way, listening to Sir Ken Robinson is an education in itself: Changing Education Paradigms.)