This article explores the recent popular press debates about the Common Core State Standards and their curricular mandates about the percentage of reading that can be fiction in middle school and high school curricula. I suggest that early American arguments about fiction’s educational value can help us better understand today’s debates about fiction’s role in the classroom, because they reveal just how much is taken for granted in our contemporary arguments about fiction. The article argues that recent work on fictionality (and on historical poetics generally) allows us to come to a richer understanding of the terms on which early Americans valued fiction, bringing into view a series of historical contestations over fictionality’s cultural meaning and purpose. These contestations, in turn, reveal just how delimited a sense of fiction’s value and possible uses underpins our current debates. After a brief reading of Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive (1797), the article explores how attention to these historical contestations over fiction’s value might lead to a reconsideration of the grounds on which we defend fiction’s educational value today. I close by considering the more general pedagogical implications of recent scholarship in historical poetics broadly construed.

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