The way to drama literacy;Cross phase;Reviews;Books

12th June 1998 at 01:00
ON THE SUBJECT OF DRAMA. Edited by David Hornbrook. Routledge pound;14.99.

David Hornbrook, whose previous books have done so much in recent years to reshape thinking about drama as a school subject, has now collaborated with a number of like-minded teachers and lecturers to produce an important book that deserves the attention not only of drama teachers but anyone concerned with designing the school curriculum.

In his own chapter, "Crafting Dramas", Hornbrook tells a story that encapsulates the book's approach and attitudes. There is, it seems, an inner-London primary school that annually produces a Shakespeare play. Watching a lucky class of 10-year-olds performing A Midsummer Night's Dream, the culmination of an enterprise involving many theatre crafts and disciplines, Hornbrook wondered what experience awaited them when they moved to secondary school and timetabled drama. Would their skills, hard work and enthusiasm be developed? "Or would the confidence and prowess so powerfully evident in that primary-school playground be allowed to lie fallow in the interests of an undifferentiated programme of role-play and improvisation?" The message is clear. Out goes "drama in education" and in comes "education in drama". Out goes Peter Slade, the villain of this book's demonology, with his hostility to theatre, performance and dramatic skills, and his advocacy of what English teachers might call the "personal growth" model of drama teaching. In comes drama as an art form, directly comparable in kind and status with art and music, with its own distinctive crafts and body of knowledge. Out goes drama as a minor province of English, with its inevitable reduction to the study of printed play texts, or as a mere service area for projects in other subjects. In comes drama as a discrete arts subject. Out goes the schizophrenic split between affective drama experiences for juniors and theatre studies for the sixth. In comes a confident and justified belief that much can be expected of young children.

The case is impressively made, and overwhelming. But will the curriculum-makers take any notice? They should read those contributors who show how the omnipresent naturalism of television drama has formed and narrowed the culture of an electronic age, and point to the liberating multicultural drama teaching that can resist it. Jane Gangi's chapter, "Making sense of drama in an electronic age", should be required reading for those who think of drama as a dispensable extra. Raymond Williams, in a prescient inaugural lecture at Cambridge years ago, called ours "a dramatised society", and this book describes the means to achieving a "drama literacy" that will enable children to cope with it. That is not just an "entitlement"; it is a social necessity.

Peter Hollindale

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