With both Japan and the United States intent on developing critical thinking skills in students, schools are belatedly recognizing the role that newspapers can play. But much more still needs to be done to convince traditionalists who resist change.

The controversy is most on display in the U.S. in the form of the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. They decree that at least half of what students read in elementary and middle school should be nonfiction, with the share rising to 70 percent by the 12th grade.

Although newspapers are not the only source of nonfiction, what makes them unique are the opinion pages, which provide fresh and timely material that engages students. In the hands of a creative teacher, editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor provoke passionate responses that can then be turned into persuasive essays, using the respective models.