Match this abuse;Primary;English;Reviews;Books

17th September 1999 at 01:00
SHAKESPEARE AND THE YOUNG WRITER. By Fred Sedgwick. Routledge pound;14.99

This book is both a practical resource and a political perspective on education. Sedgwick sees Shakespeare trapped within a mechanistic system geared to rote learning and hijacked into the uneasy role of "national scripture". Above all, hisprimary pupils are "players, active learners engaging with the plays through their own writing".

The conventional storytelling approach is rejected in favour of focus on one speech, or even one line. Such focus is curiously effective in capturing the mood of a play. Whether exploring the violence of Macbeth, engaging with the mischief of A Midsummer Night's Dream, or vigorously attempting to match Shakespearean abuse, these children write with such zest that the accessibility of the plays is never in question. They coin names for Puck; they write Haiku insults: "You're a broken drum a snapped in half recorder You sing like thunder"; and, in response to Macbeth's Porter, invite characters from Saddam Hussein to the taxman into pretend Hell.

Oxymoron, paradox and contrast emerge as natural to apprentice writing as to Shakespearean genius. While properly scathing of rote learning, Sedgwick commends memorising for personal enjoyment. Shakespeare is an infiltrator of the common places and the infants who, all unbidden, improvise a playground game imitative of Puck's call "I'llfollow you ..." are moving testimonyto the sheer physicality of thelanguage, its humanity, and itsmemorability.

Sedgwick writes finally of "faith, hope and love" as the distinguishing marks of true professionalism. In the present educational climate, he believes teachers must cope with "grandeur, truth and wisdom on the one hand and rubbish on the other".

Jill Pirrie is a former English co-ordinator at a middle school in Suffolk

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