Reading ruined by classroom dissection

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Michael Rosen, Bernard Ashley, Quentin Blake and Jamila Gavin were among my daughter's greatest heroes when she was a child. With the recent publication of their views on the National Literacy Strategy, their status in her eyes has once again been confirmed.

Like her childhood writer heroes, my daughter detests having books taken apart, metaphorically speaking, to illustrate some point in an English lesson. The painstaking dissecting of beloved books by Thomas Hardy and Arthur Miller, for example, over a period of weeks or months in GCSE English, has made her unable to face those books again.

GCSE English turned her off the Bard completely, despite the most valiant efforts of a fine teacher, and despite the fact that she excelled at English. Hence, my daughter shocked both me and said excellent teacher, by excluding English Literature from her choice of A-level subjects.

English lessons had "destroyed" so many books for her, she argued, that she wasn't having any more go the same way. No amount of counter-argument would persuade her that A-level Eng Lit might, in fact, provide a golden opportunity to pass off as "schoolwork" something that is actually fun for her.

My daughter has grown up in an apparent golden era of publication of children's books, and been privileged to live in a country where the wealth of books available for children and young adults is breathtaking.

Carrying several library cards since infancy, having parents prepared to indulge her voracious appetite for buying books and sharing them with her, having teachers who would lend her their personal copies of new books and discuss them freely with her, my daughter's love of books has grown into an enduring passion.

From the above authors, it was an easy step, in time, to modern writers of adult fiction. Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, et al have provided hours of shared reading and thought-provoking discussion. Books were dealt with as they ought to be - read for enjoyment, talked about, dipped into again and again at leisure. They were not stuttered over in classroom readings, nor were their bits yanked out of context for comprehension exercises.

Having rejected Eng Lit as a subject, my daughter none the less cannot resist the set reading list. Finding her best friend struggling through Persuasion, she thinks she should help her friend out by reading it with her.

This is her "excuse". The reality is that she feels she has been unfair in rejecting Jane Austen as being not only dated in her subject matter but impossible to read. While her best friend spends six weeks struggling through Persuasion, my daughter devours all of Austen's novels, some of which she actually enjoys (excluding Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey).

Finding she now has a handle on the language and social customs of Austen's era, she embarks on George Eliot's Silas Marner, hoping to one day get round to The Mill on the Floss and Emily Bront 's Wuthering Heights, both of which she views as too depressing right now... One day we may well have Hardy and the Bard back in favour, Arthur Miller having already been reinstated through The Crucible, though I have little hope for A View from the Bridge, dissected in GCSE English.

While I hold no particular brief for these illustrious works, save that they are old and dear friends, my daughter's outright rejection of some of them, and her detestation of others as a result of the said GCSE experience, has been of concern. I felt that she was depriving herself of a whole body of literature from which she would derive pleasure. However, no amount of plodding through and dissecting them to show her how clever andor worthy they are, was going to turn her on to them.

The way in which she has come to them, through natural curiosity to see what others see in them, is the way in which books should be approached.

Thank god, therefore, that she has chosen not to do Eng Lit. Imagine how many more books, some of which are already favourites of hers, would have been forever ruined.

I can only thank the GCSE god that it has not chosen to make the work of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Pat Barker set texts. Or, horror of horrors, comprehension exercises.

Shereen Pandit is a writer and lives in London.

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