Illiteracy is no aid to creativity

25th February 2000 at 00:00
HAVE you read one of Terry Deary's unbelievably patronising"Horrible Histories recently? In several volumes of trendy twaddle he makes the Greeks groovy and the Vikings vicious, so they become relevant, meaningful, and accessible to"kidz".

As a real creative writer, he knows his audience. "Kidz" love pictures, speech bubbles, comic book formats and cheap laughs - don't they? I mean, it's just too much trouble to read about Greek myths and legends in a proper history book. So like Tel you can drop references to Trojan horses into your articles.

It's especially hard for those poor underachieving boys, so give 'em what they can cope with, and aim low. Wickid!

When Terry Deary says the word creativity doesn't appear in the National Literacy Strategy Framework (TES, February 11) it's because he's entirely missed the point. The whole strategy is about creativity, every word. You can't be creative without skills, insight, and form.

Darcy Bussell doesn't leap on stage on her pointes without years of learning her craft. David Beckham may be naturally talented, but he spends hours training and honing his skills in collaboration with his colleagues, so he can create magic on Saturdays. Since when have skills, insight and form been inimical to creativity?

For too long children have been forced to sit through"writers workshops" with a blank piece of paper in front of them and told to create a story. For the lucky few, a wonderful opportunity - for the vast majority, an endless charade as they produce pages of emergent spellings and undecipherable scripts.

Alternatively, because children know a con when they see one they write half a-dozen lines of a correctly spelt but safe story, usually on the same theme.

To me, the most telling line in Terry's tirade (alliteration Year 2 term 2) was where he let slip that his teachers had drilled him into "passing his 11 plus over 40 years ago". Poor boy had to go to grammar school, and on to higher education, along with that other well-known hater of all things NLS, Michael Rosen. Their educational success has not noticeably blighted their creative muse. Rather, it has given them choices in life, choices they would like to deny Darren and Kylie.

"Remove the fear of failure," he says. If children can't read and write properly when they leave school, they will struggle with every part of living, their choices will be narrowed, their self-esteem at rock bottom. Try being creative under those circumstances.

The teachers and children I come across in my job as literacy consultant overwhelmingly welcome the strategy. I've had teachers say it has revolutionised their teaching. I've seen children thrilled by spotting homophones or fiction hooks in Paul Jennings' stories, or just discussing what makes a really good information book.

I'll end by quoting Tel in his own words - from Wicked Words in fact, what else!

"There's only one way to get your hands on this amazing power of words.

"Know more words than anyone else in the world! Read this book and you can know more than anyone in the entire universe! (Oh, I forgot to mention... words also give you the power to exaggerate a bit.)" Not 'arf!

Lesley Drake. NLS literacy consultant. Kirton Road. Plaistow, London E13 REX.


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