Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Education, Education, Education?

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!


  1. Oh dear...one of the band's I like had a keyboardist who never read a book again (apart from keyboard manuals) after doing an English course at college - the reason I've never done one...

  2. God forbid that education be enjoyable...

  3. It is a shame that the endless analysis of books, poetry, etc, causes people to lose an interest in reading; I was subjected to this at school as well. And it's unnecessary. The reason for studying English is obvious - all of us can benefit from being effective communicators, in our jobs or in our personal lives. Allowing school students to read simply for enjoyment will do that. It encourages more reading, and that in itself undoubtedly improves a person's language skills, often without them even noticing.

    But asking schoolchildren to dissect and analyse works to the nth degree is surely not condicive to making children want to learn. For a start, many of the works I was asked to analyse had themes that I simply couldn't understand at my age - not having had the life experience to do so. So while I was always at least a reasonably good student, the fact that I couldn't see themes that my teacher could (who was, obviously, an adult with life experience) did not do much for confidence. Perhaps this sort of thing is better for older students with a desire and aptitude for it (A-level, maybe), but not for every schoolchild. After all, one can see that it would be useful for an academic or for someone who'll make a living as a creative writer - but those are career paths that few of us will aspire to, let alone achieve.

    I hope you get to see Of Mice and Men. I've been playing Lennie in it, and enjoyed it very much. Hope you do to, if you get the chance.

  4. Thank you for your comment, John! We did get to see it on Thursday evening. I have posted a review here - http://spikemikeisbreakingaleg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/of-mice-and-men-review-royalty-theatre.html - and I swear it was written before I read your comment! Well done on a great performance!

  5. Thanks you. I saw your review last night and was pleased to find that the writer was yourself.

  6. https://www.thebookseller.com/news/morpurgo-calls-government-reinstate-story-time.html