A while ago I found out my local amdram theatre was to stage a production of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. This is a GCSE text as I'm sure many of you know. A great opportunity then to enhance my son's experience of the book. He wasn't hugely enthusiastic, but not completely dismissive of the idea when I suggested it.. He actually quite likes the theatre, after I successfully dragged him along to the Pantomime at The People's Theatre. I even managed to persuade him to review it. You can read his review here, and though I may be biased, I think it clearly shows his wit and his love of words and language. I managed to drag him a little less reluctantly to a couple more shows after this, though I have never managed to wheedle another review from him. At the moment, however, he has reverted to "reluctant teenager " mode, which means he has to be persuaded of the very particular benefits to himself of any suggested activity before he will even consider taking part. And I had done a pretty good job. I had wrenched a tepid agreement out of him.
But now this proposed outing is under threat. His very mild enthusiasm has been quashed almost before it saw light of day. And it is a worry and a disappointment to me because the source of the quashing is school. The very place that should be nurturing his interest in, and love of, literature and its associated arts is in fact doing the complete opposite.
Today when I asked about booking tickets the reply I got was chillingly negative.. He said, and I quote, "To be honest, I think by that time I will have had more than enough of Mice and Men. I think I will be well and truly sick to death of it. Analysing and dissecting, and analysing some more is just about guaranteed to kill off any interest in, or enjoyment of, a book".
My son found his love of reading fiction from an enthusiastic English teacher, not from me, a former children's librarian and current reader development librarian. But hey, what do mams know anyway?
I find it incredibly saddening and disheartening that the process of passing GCSEs is destroying his interest in books. There is more to learning about literature and writing than this.If even the students who love reading are being systematically disengaged by the teaching methods used, then what hope is there for the others?
I didn't develop my love of reading at school. I have always had it. English at O Level did not thrill me, but it didn't turn me away from reading. Surely things are meant to be different now, teaching has moved on from learning and rote, students are encouraged to think and explore ideas for themselves...lessons are exciting and absorbing? Apparently not.
Of Mice and Men will be showing at The Royalty Theatre, Sunderland at the end of October. I hope to be attending it with my son, and I hope he will be there willingly. I suspect, however that a certain amount of emotional blackmail and a monetary incentive might be required. If not I may be going it alone!