This is a subject I’ve written about previously but is something very close to my heart – getting kids to read. One of the most important vehicles for this is the subject matter. What should schools use to get young people to read?
It seems to me that we refuse to consider different interests and abilities. That’s problem number one.
Who cares if they want to read comics or graphic novels? What if they truly love trains or football? Couldn’t we accommodate that? Couldn’t education be tailored and even fun? Surely that they read is more important than what they read?
Problem number two is the actual material we do place before them. My youngest son asked why they couldn’t read Wind in the Willows or Watership Down recently. His teacher told him that the first book was boring, the second too gruesome…
Watership Down too gruesome! Think on that for a moment.
Then reflect on her preferred options – Heroes or Lord of the Flies. So, a story about bunnies trying to escape from destruction and fascism is more troubling than those books? Really?
Now, I am not disputing their literary merit. They are impressive works. But they are deeply pessimistic, truly gruesome, and they can leave their readers scarred. I’ve read them – and while I don’t think young people should be cosseted, I don’t see why they have to be brutalised either.
It wouldn’t be so bad if these kinds of books weren’t so dominant in the curriculum, but they are.
My own experience of English literature was defined by I’m the King of the Castle. It was a great read, but it was intensely disturbing. Even now I feel deeply saddened by it. I was luckier than most though because I read a lot in my own time, so the misery was diluted. Imagine all those poor souls whose only engagement is with books like that?
And then, problem three, having hammered our children with gloom and doom, we compound it by getting them to dissect the content to ridiculous degrees. Our educators read things into the material that even the authors don’t recognise. What is that about? We do it with art too? Is that just about being clever, or does it furnish an industry of and for critics?
Why do we make education so depressing? Why do we refuse to tailor it to suit each individual? Why do we concentrate on discipline and control? Because we have to create adults that will fit seamlessly into this world that we have created for them. That’s what we have to acknowledge if we are ever to change it.
Radical Rhymes is a professional artist working with a range of media – predominantly animal/human portraits and landscapes – including, most recently, hand painted furniture. You can see his work on Instagram Radicalrhymes1969 or on Twitter @RhymesRadical.
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