Still across the pond, English author Susan Hill, whose books are included in GCSE and A-level syllabi and who has more patience in one pinky than I do in my whole body, in The Telegraph says that “she has been flooded with ‘desperate’ emails from pupils struggling to understand her novels”:
“It saddens me greatly to think that my own novels may be taught so badly, so dully and so mechanically that they will contribute to this loathing of books. I have seen enough school essays and coursework to know that standards are lower than they were.”
“It has become distressingly clear to me that too many school pupils are taught badly, lazily, unintelligently and cursorily,” she said.
“They are not taught how to read and understand novels or to write essays and coursework and answer questions about them. Judging by the evidence of their emails, many should not be studying English literature at all, but with guidance, understanding and above all enthusiastic teaching they could certainly be helped to get more out of books – any books – than they are.”
Miss Hill also believes that not all pupils should be required to study GCSE English:
“Not all of them need to, or will ever, find practical application for those particular skills,” she said. ” If those who struggle… were introduced to a wide variety of books which they simply might enjoy reading, far fewer would be put off all literature for the rest of their lives.
Read the rest of the article here, and don’t miss the examples of emails sent to Miss Hill, who points out that teachers (and, I’d add, parents) are doing a poor job in the grammar and manners departments as well: “Manners are not automatic, like breathing. Nor is grammar.” The Guardian article, by the bye, came about as a result of a recent Standpoint magazine article by Miss Hill, “A Novel Way to Treat a Writer”.
Recent related articles:
“What Ails Literary Studies: Leaving Literature Behind” by Bruce Fleming in the Dec. 19, 2008, Chronicle of Higher Education (many thanks to Jo for letting me know about The Chronicle Review earlier in the year and also for sending me a number of articles behind the [shhh...] subscriber-only firewall): “We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.”
“Shakespeare, Dickens and Palin. Discuss.” by English writer and critic Philip Hensher in The Independent, on “the place of the illustrious dead”. (That would be Michael, not Sarah, by the way.) From which,
The determination to study “the contemporary” and “the relevant” has resulted in a weird situation where a writer’s work never needs to find a public who actually likes the work. Instead, a bureaucrat approves, a volume is bought by huge numbers by schools, and the question of engagement with a living public never seems to arise.
Quite how bizarre this situation is has been pointed out by a mesmerising article by Susan Hill in the recent Standpoint magazine. She is an author with a genuine, living public; other books of hers are favourites, apparently, with the GCSE setters.
A Michael Palin travelogue* may not be the place to look to find out what great literature looks like. On the other hand, we are fairly sure that Coleridge is that place.