What our schools are up against.
Two small items in today’s news remind us what we’re up against in the struggle to render our public (and private) schools more substantial and more relevant in the lives of the young. For the schools, other than confining children in groups of 20 to 30 in classrooms directed by a teacher, do not occupy substantial and relevant places in children’s lives.
The first item, from the London Telegraph gives teacher responses to the Education Secretary Alan Johnson’s list of "untouchable" authors. Johnson’s ruling was that Charles Dickens and George Eliot could not be removed from the middle school curriculum.
The teachers say that both authors are much too difficult to be read by 11 to 14 year olds and that the attempt to do so would most likely put children off great literature for life.
Ian McNeilly, the director of National Association of the Teaching of English, said that the Education Secretary was out to win favour with "Middle England". In McNeilly’s exact words, "The guy’s a bird brain, forcing children to study texts that are inappropriate puts them off the text, the author and the subject."
So if we can’t have them read the classics, fearing that thereby they will be turned off good literature for life, what can we have them read? No one has come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, except perhaps
J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books, which still seem to have some attraction for the young. But they’re not Charles Dickens, let alone George Eliot.
The other item, from the Paris Figaro, tells us what in fact is probably most relevant and substantial in children’s lives, the possession of portable electronic devices. We learn that 8 out of 10 adolescents have their own cell phones, and that now, with the latest versions of these phones, their use is not limited to calls and text messaging but can also be used to access the internet, where they might, among many other things, upload their pictures and videos to My Space and uTube.
Obscene images, violent videos, and games that may combine both are common, all too common in the lives of children. How can the teacher in the lycée compete for her students’ interest, not to mention holding her attention? She can’t.
So far an interdiction of cell phones by the school authorities has not been possible because of the parents who want to have their children within their direct call range.
What may we conclude from these items? That popular culture is probably a much more powerful force in the lives of our children than anything else, certainly more powerful than the teacher’s words in the classroom. And, furthermore, that it’s now painfully obvious we’re not going to get them back by having them read great works of literature, let alone by even well conceived math, history, and science lessons.Explore posts in the same categories: Education