How to crush the will to read;Letter

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Bill Laar's article "The tragedy of war" (TES, March 27) should be called "The travesty of English teaching". Here we have a book, Rose Blanche, written by one of our best writers about a theme, genocide - which has blighted and continues to blight the lives of millions of people throughout this century. It is seen through the eyes of a child who is not among the persecuted but who nonetheless dies at the end, shot in the chaos, which follows "Liberation". It is based on events which actually happened, and it can move children and adults to tears.

Reading Rose Blanche for the first time is like being winded - it is an immensely powerful and moving story. For many children in Years 5 and 6, this will be their first encounter with the Holocaust. For others, such as the many refugee children in our schools, it may remind them forcibly of their own suffering. It is a theme that needs sensitive handling, and the starting point for any teacher must surely be how it makes us feel when we read it.

What does Bill Laar reduce this powerful, potentially life-changing experience to? We are invited to use the book to deliver national curriculum objectives (range, skills and Standard English, and language study, reading and writing). We can also, if we have managed to keep our attention on this turgid guff so far, deliver National Literacy Project objectives at text, sentence and word level.

What does this mean? It means that we can do comprehension exercises and compositions on aspects of the book, which the author never thought of, like an interior monologue illustrating Rose's character. At sentence level we can analyse the spelling and punctuation, analysing the way sentences are started through subordinate clauses (!) and at word level we can invite pupils to guess at unfamiliar words from the context and use the correct terminology for inverted commas.

We submit that if this is to be the way children think adults read books, then they will remain watching television. At least there they can have the experience without having it held at arms length and rendered unimaginably tedious in the name of the national curriculum.


86 Bedford Road East Finchley, London N2

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