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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today