Thursday, 5 November 2015

American Literature Lost

I feel this went highly under reported: American Books Dropped From UK School Curriculum

In an effort to make British reading lists more British, the UK department of education has dropped favourite American classics from its syllabus, including To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men.

I'm in my mid-thirties now, but back when I was in secondary school I remember studying both of those books well. I believe the fastest way to put kids off anything is to force them to study it at school. I didn't enjoy To Kill a Mocking Bird at all, despite my English teacher tearfully extolling its virtues and telling us it was the book she most wishes she had written herself. The only thing that made it partially bearable was the Boo Radleys releasing Wake Up Boo! the same summer.

On the other hand, I loved Of Mice and Men. I'd practise reciting sections of it - reduced me to tears every time.

Honestly, I don't reckon it matters a bit where those books were written. The geographical location of an author has little bearing on how engaging or moving a book is.

At that age, I had my nose firmly pressed to a Point Horror, a Terry Pratchette or a Stephen King. Those were the books I chose to read of my own volition, and I was a bookish kid. Imagine the large proportion of (often male, though this is worth reading) kids who could be damaged for life by inflicting Austen on them.

I watch my twelve-year-old nephew. He loves reading. He reads full YA works, but especially loves manga. More and more boys and girls are soaking up graphic novels nowadays, and I reckon it should be taken seriously. We're not talking The Beano. We're talking tales of high adventure, complex relationships and whacking, bish-boshing quantities of onomatopoeia.

Imagine trying to tell a school under the current government to include graphic novels on the curriculum? You'd get dropped faster than a cat on a hot tin roof. Yet it's been shown that comics and graphic novels do utterly incredible things for literacy rates and vocabulary acquisition.

We just can't seem to shake this idea that for literature to be worth something, it needs to be 'highbrow'. That there's some form of merit in bashing your face against Shakespeare or beating a kid about the head with D. H. Lawrence. 

School is not the only route to literature, nor should it be. In this exam-obsessed, clasroom-crammed, overall cock-up of an education production line we've constructed, we've completely overlooked the importance of love of learning.

If you can instil a love of literature in people, they'll go off and find the classics under their own steam, when it means something to them and when it holds relevance. Reading is an entirely intimate act. Part of the pleasure is feeling as though you've uncovered a secret. 

Nobody does that in a room full of their overly judgemental peers, rife with hormonal insecurity, under the watchful eye of an authority figure.

Contemporary literature is a gateway drug to classical literature.

If we valued learning at all, we would ask kids to find the books they love and introduce their teachers to them. If this article is to be believed, it would greatly expand the minds of the establishment: Do children still need to read the classics of English literature?

The thing that needs examining is: what are we actually gaining from forcing kids to read classic works rather than contemporary? 

Is it for the benefit of young people, or to satisfy some whimsical sense of nostalgia on behalf of their parents? (Or great-great, long-dead, grandparents in the case of many of these authors).

And - why British?

What on earth makes British authors somehow more important than the likes of Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Herman Melville or Mark Twain?

I assume that if we're demoting American literature, we're also demoting all fore'n literature?

Plus, if Scotland ever gains its independence, we should steer well clear of Robert Louis Stevenson.

I fail to see the educational merit in teaching that those authors are somehow less worthy of our time.

Many of our greatest stories come from abroad.

Making curriculum decisions based solely on a misplaced sense of nationalism, rather than on literary merit, is an insult to authors - and readers - the world over.

What a hideous group of hooligans run rampant over the minds of our youth.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear! Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne are wonderful reading for boys and girls at school - there is so much classic literature out there which is entertaining and educational without being painful. As for nationalism... yuck in any form! I agree also with the self-fulfilling prophecy part about boys and reading, and found that humorous and zany things such as Roald Dahl, David Walliams and Diary of a Wimpy Kid have converted even my younger reluctant reader (plus they are infatuated with Asterix and Tintin).