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The road to swigging beer;FE Focus

Books and ale are on the agenda for adults studying the volumes which shook the world, reports Michael Prestage

IN A Roman Catholic social club a stone's throw from the Toxteth area of Liverpool a heated discussion is under way on the merits of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

For the 14 or so regulars at the Books That Shook The World class organised by Liverpool's adult education service, there was the chance to test opinions over a pint with their peers.

The course was originally scheduled for six weeks, but such has been its popularity that it is expected to be extended. There is no qualification to be gained. It merely offers a forum for debate and the chance to study books, as the title makes clear, that shook the world.

As well as Nineteen Eighty-Four there is the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, Machiavelli's The Prince, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

The students have read at least some of the books and will be buying or borrowing from the library the others so that they can be read for the Monday night course.

Tutor Albert McCabe believes the course gives people the chance to open their minds.

He said: "There are many working-class people, particularly men, who read a lot of books, but when they go for a drink the conversation will centre on football and family affairs. They often lack the confidence to talk about books in a social context.

"This course gives people the opportunity to develop their ideas and debate them in a relaxed atmosphere. These people don't need a paper qualification. In the past the education service has perhaps failed them, but courses like this are attempting to put that right."

Mr McCabe added that traditionally middle-aged, working-class men were the hardest to attract into adult education and such courses in a social setting were a way of tackling that.

High unemployment has meant many people in Liverpool 8 have had plenty of time to read. Despite having no formal qualifications many are intelligent and well-read as the course is proving. He thought it no surprise that many of the books were political.

Mr McCabe said the students may choose to go on to other courses offered by the education service. For some though the Monday night debate will be enough. The students taking part range in age from their 20s to a septuagenarian.

John Blanche, aged 50, said: "I have always been interested in literature and this course is a stimulating idea. I have read all the books we are studying with the exception of All Quiet on The Western Front, but that was more than 20 years ago so it will be nice to go back to them."

He left school at 15 but later went on a second chance university course and has a history degree from what was Liverpool Polytechnic. He is currently studying for a national vocational qualification Level 3 in management, but before that was unemployed for 15 years.

"I think the working class have more knowledge than they are given credit for, but they are often afraid to express opinions. It's about confidence," he said. "I like this course because it is about a love of reading for its own sake. Education should be an end in itself and enjoyed. It's not just about collecting bits of paper."

Barbara Shane, 70, admitted: "To tell you the truth I like the discussions with the group. I like the interplay. It is entertaining as well as educational. I come and have my say, perhaps too much so really."

She remembers her wartime school education was very basic with just the 3Rs and a bit of geography and history. But she has always loved reading.

"There isn't anywhere else like this to go, especially for women," she said. "You can't have these debates in a pub. Working-class men don't like opinionated women. In a social situation you haven't to disagree with them. Here we can have some lively debates."

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