Classic stories bashed off the reading shelf

11th January 2008 at 00:00
Warhammer, World Wrestling Entertainment, Smash Hits and Performance Car are just a few of the magazines and comics that I have confiscated over the years from my pupils. It had been decreed from above that none of these tomes was suitable for classroom reading. It transpires that we were wrong. New research from De Montfort University (The TES, December 21) suggests that as long as a child is motivated to read, then the subject material is immaterial, so to speak.

This startling departure from recent methodology had me scuttling into my nine-year-old son's bedroom and sifting through the detritus to dig out his copy of The Bash Street Kids Annual 2007. If he had his way, this is the book he would choose to read. So what blueprint for education is my son being exposed to and is it an appropriate choice as a classroom reader?

In many ways it is an accurate portrayal of the modern system. The fabric of the Bash Street School building will be familiar enough to most inmates of public sector establishments. Large, metal gates are permanently padlocked, though in this particular case they are to keep the children in, rather than keep intruders out.

The reader only encounters two members of staff: Teacher and The Headmaster. Teacher is middle-aged, bespectacled and weedy. He wears a mortarboard and a red jacket with patches at the elbows. Not a terribly heroic figure and not one that the modern primary school child is likely to recognise either, as there are no men left in their schools. However, Teacher is also perennially idealistic, frustrated, careworn, bullied by The Headmaster and driven to distraction by his pupils. The reader may not identify with the sex of the teacher but they will recognise the characteristics.

The Headmaster is a largely absent figure who only appears at times of crisis or when there is an opportunity for financial gain. He lives in fear of the School Inspectors and of the pupils. The very picture of the modern manager.

And what of the pupils? What sort of role models are they? Well, despite being ugly (Plug), stupid (Smiffy) and rebellious (Danny), they invariably triumph over authority and succeed in avoiding doing any work at all. This is seen as a good thing. Power to the pupil!

Only one child loses out and that is Cuthbert, the soft swot. Cuthbert is smartly dressed, intelligent, polite, sensitive and eager to please. As a result he is reviled and bullied by his fellow pupils. There is no redemption, this happens week after week after week.

It's all there in the pages of The Bash Street Kids - recommended classroom reading!

Paul Warnes, Primary supply teacher and adult literacy specialist in Kent.

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