Letters Extra: A novel choice

6th August 2004 at 01:00
We seem to have reached a new low in educational debate, in your report on "Children bored by choice of novels", (TES July 9 2004).

What Philip Jarrett says is generally true, but, as he refuses to identify the offending literature, we as teachers don't know what to do about it. Maybe we shall be lapsed into a sort of literary coma from which we cannot emerge, induced by recommendation of Ofsted, the examination system and what passes for debate?

The absurdity of Jarrett's line is to blame the schools entirely for what is not fundamentally their choice but that of the examination boards. Text lists may be so contrived that the study of a "modern novel" is inevitable, regardless of the fact that the "writing" is not literature and not properly to be called a novel.

Jarrett might have noticed that the problem extends to other genres among many set books at GCSE and A-level. Here's my (alas! brief) list of unliterature:

The Color Purple, Wide Sargassso Sea, The Comedians, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Six Women Poets (or most of them), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, View from the Bridge, Mockingbird, An Inspector Calls, Stone Cold.

Young people do not like these texts, and can very well place them: typically a girl remarked that "Sargasso" is alright for a read but not worth serious study. Exactly.

Swindells' writings, such as Stone Cold, typify what has happened to English literature: the novels, prize-winning, are foisted on the young as a sort of concealed propaganda. Swindells offers to deal with issues such as racism, child abuse or homelessness. But the messages are preposterous: homelessness can lead to the danger of the serial killer, a tiff between a white lad and some Pakistanis exposes him to political propaganda and leads to fire-bombings, while some vague fundamentalist religion makes girls a prey to sex-abuse.

Swindells' deeper "message" is that genuine literature, such as Dickens and George Eliot, is a bore and only tolerable to get some exam result.nbsp;He shows also a contempt for learning: kids would rather be out of school, even if only making the tea ("work experience"); learning has nothing to do with education, which is designed to instill "discipline" in the young by teaching them to conform.

Schools are not there - and nor are books - to encourage thinking, but to promote the all-inclusive society. Naturally he works well with the grain of our "system" and its obsessive testing.
Nigel Probert
Porthmadognbsp;nbsp; nbsp;

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