Father's day

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Michael Cook wonders what he really loves, and what he's been 'encouraged' to love

There are some things we are taught in infant school that we may later forget (the order of the planets around the sun, for example). There are some things we should take care to remember as they might have an impact on our later lives (it's red for stop, green for go). And there are some things that we forget we ever needed to remember: they seep into our consciousness so completely that we can't imagine we ever learned them at all.

So, in Class 6, Miss Cox teaches Year 2 about the care and respect that must be used when handling the English language. It is no good writing "two" when we mean "to", she says. We must be careful to differentiate between "meet" and "meat" because, although they sound identical, the two words are not the same, and have different meanings.

It's a lesson that should be heeded in high places. When I heard on the radio that "part of one of Britain's most famous piers has been destroyed by fire", I'm sure I wasn't the only one with visions of Lord Healey with his eyebrows ablaze.

And it's not just on the radio. BBC1's 10pm bulletin runs that snappy white-on-red headline graphic at the bottom of the screen: "Blair defends speech" or "Interest rates stabilise". When they led with the news that "Turkey talks" I thought the item was going to turn out to be a hell of a lot more interesting than usual. (Next day, as the talks continued, the spoilsports changed the headline to "Turkey negotiations".) I am able to tune in to what Miss Cox is saying this morning because I am occupied with a menial but vital task at the other end of the classroom: I am counting out the story sacks for next term's reception children to take home from their weekly pre-school classes. The story sacks are packed with a picture book and an array of relevant toys, games and activities. Borrow the Thomas The Tank Engine sack and you won't just be sharing the tale of the Fat Controller and his privatised railway network, you will also be completing a Thomas jigsaw, singing along to a Thomas CD, and playing with a Thomas train set.

The idea of the story sacks is, of course, to promote a love of books. But as I sort through them, the question arises: if books are so great, why does anyone need to promote a love for them? There is, after all, no authority devoted to the joys of watching more TV.

Not that I am anti-reading. But I had always assumed my own love of books had appeared unprompted within me. Now, though, I am suspicious that it was surreptitiously passed down by sneaky infant teachers, possibly by the use of some dark propaganda like the story sack. A love of books has seeped into my consciousness so completely that I can't recall ever learning it at all. Is this education? Or brainwashing?

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent-helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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