Thank God it's Friday

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Monday A teacher has asked me to help her class write "pithily". I speculate sourly: more junk from the literacy strategy? I read the story of David and Goliath. I stop here and there, and ask the children to write newspaper headlines. I tell them first about my favourite. It's from The Sun, the day after lowly Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC beat mighty Celtic: "Super Cally Go Ballistic: Celtic are Atrocious". When David discards Saul's armour because it's too big, one boy writes "David ignores Health and Safety". Only "flouts" could have improved that. Another boy headlines Goliath's fall as pithily as any Sun sub-editor could: "Timber!"

Halfway through, I ask the children if they know how the story is going to end. Not one does.

Tuesday Driving home last night, I turned into a grumpy old man. The stories I grew up with are blanks to today's children. The sporting cliches about a David and Goliath match, when Cally take on Celtic, are meaningless. I call in at my local offie, which is run by a Sikh family.

The young man who serves me has a medallion on his T-shirt with a picture of Guru Nanak. I have been researching Sikhism for an assembly book, and I ask if he knows any stories about him. "No, I've never read any of the books". So the loss of stories isn't just a Christian concern.

Wednesday Every generation has a similar complaint. What about the Greek myths, familiar to the grammar school children in the generation before my own? I try one out on a class. It's the story about Prometheus giving fire to the human race, and provides a metaphor for the beginnings of knowledge, science, art... well, everything really. The children love it.

Thursday Teaching a group of children "Full Fathom Five", I ask what Shakespeare meant by "Those are pearls that were his eyes". One says, haltingly, "It means that the water sucked all the colours out of his pupils, so they were white". The children may have never been offered what Philip Larkin called the "myth-kitty" but, given the chance, they take it, use it, and learn from it.

Friday A teacher says: "The trouble with children today is..." I ponder homicide, briefly but seriously. "Ithat they have no imagination". That very day, in another class, a boy, asked to write a riddle with a pun in it, has begun, "His head is mainly gold". Answer: a lion. His delighted look says, "Geddit?" Not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but not bad, either. Imaginative. And pithy.

Fred Sedgwick is a travelling poet and former primary teacher. His latest book is How to Teach with a Hangover (Continuum)

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