Literacy zealots have lost the plot

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Why are we teaching our primary children Ofstedese? My daughter Mehsati announced offhandedly last week that multiplying in tens, hundreds and thousands was "one of our key objectives". And a few months ago, bouncing on her new trampoline, she shouted: "I've met my target!"

(springing high enough to get her shadow feet over the car).

Eight-year-olds should not be talking about targets and key objectives.

They should be exploring and making a mockery of adult-imposed limits on their learning.

Schools could help children think independently by introducing them to the pleasures of reading, or listening to, good stories. I agree with Michael Rosen (Another Voice, TES, July 23) and Christopher Ashton (Letters, TES, September 3). Kids can transcend their own limits as they become intrepid adventurers, fearless detectives or questing heroines. Mehsati informs me that she never becomes the character; it feels more as if she is a tiny mouse watching events unfold, tense with anticipation, desperately hoping, desperately fearing.

No matter how the pleasure is felt, it is better for being shared. Some years ago I was mildly embarrassed to be the only mother in the maternity ward reading to her newborn baby. Of course Mehsati didn't understand, but it kept me amused. As I read to her, my wonderful daughter gazed intensely into my face. There have been few days since when we have not shared a story or poem, or flopped on the sofa together, each involved in her own book. Together, we have discovered some wonderful stories. We cried together when Aslan was bound to the stone table, and when Matthew in Anne of Green Gables died. We laughed together at Anne Fine's Charm School, Michael Bond's Paddington stories and even Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing at the Globe Theatre.

I have guided Mehsati's choice of reading, but, more importantly, she has guided mine and opened new worlds for me. She is confident that I respect her judgment and act on her recommendations. Of her own accord (not merely because she has been indoctrinated by her feminist mother), Mehsati recently declared vehemently that it was unfair that boys had the best adventures in Enid Blyton's stories. After reading a children's version of Shakespeare, she said pensively: "Macbeth's all right really, he just listens to his wife too much."

Yet Mehsati hates literacy at school. She has had excellent teachers, and the school is a good one which cares about its pupils and their place in the community. But the system is wrong. National priorities are upside down. Literacy has no more to do with reading than key objectives have to do with being eight.

Jo Lally teaches German at Havant college, Hampshire

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