Last term our Year 11 pupils did their trial GCSE exams, and the topic for the English paper was TV. The candidates were asked to imagine that the head had refused to buy any more televisions for classroom use and to write a letter urging himher to reconsider that decision. Unwittingly, I find myself in a similar situation.
Earlier in the term, the school suffered a break-in and a few TVs and videos were stolen. We have not yet replaced them and I must admit that I am quite reluctant to spend money we cannot afford. Could we teach English as effectively without them? When I think of the constant "Can we watch a video, sir? It is last thing on Friday" pleas, I am tempted; but when I look at the wonderful film and TV adaptations of Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare, I know it would be cutting off our noses.
So it was encouraging to read the sensible arguments the pupils advanced on the benefits of using television in the classroom; how the programmes are often memorable; how they bring ideas, periods and characters to life; how they reinforce and facilitate learning; how they bring texts to life and enrich their experience of literature.
They scorn the presumptions that they are incapable of being discriminating about what to wach, or that they are reduced to mindless zombies by TV's influence. They enjoy the entertaining aspects of viewing for what they are and take the violence shown as part of the entertainment, not as approval or an example. These 16-year-olds have faith in their own judgment and a healthy contempt for adults' distrust. They can see the pitfalls and pernicious influences of the medium clearly.
So, all but convinced by such confidence, imagine my consternation when I reached Philip's paper and read: "TV is especially good in English because we are reading a boring old book and we can watch a film instead", and "It's good when we watch telly instead of having some dull old teacher rattling on all the time."
My initial reaction was to find him and strangle him, but then I recognised the truth in what he said. TV can add variety; reading a 19th century novel can be tedious; seeing is often more effective than hearing. I remind myself that TV versions of classics stimulate reading. I am certain that Oliver Twist and Mrs Gaskell will soon be in demand because many of those who enjoy the films will read the novels. I have the books ready: I'd better buy that TV.
Kevin Fitzsimons is head of faculty in a northern comprehensive