• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

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Two different schools of reading

in England.

UK children’s laureate Michael Rosen wonders, in The Guardian Book Blog, “just how difficult would it be to get schools currently teaching ‘literacy’ to teach a genuine love of reading instead?”  Mr. Rosen is hoping, with the help of the BBC, to spark a “reading revolution”, beginning with a school in Cardiff, Wales.  According to a related Guardian article [links added by me],

… Michael Rosen is set to do for books what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners, with a new BBC show in which he attempts to get a Cardiff primary school to fall in love with literature in just 10 weeks.

The hour-long show, Just Read with Michael Rosen, is due to appear in February. It will see Rosen, author of Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, giving staff at the school permission to shake up their timetables in an attempt to get classes reading for fun. Many of the children at the school have few books at home, and have never visited a library. …

With teachers under pressure to deliver a “reading curriculum”, Rosen said that schools have developed what he dubbed “excerpt-itis”, where classes read an extract from a book and are immediately asked questions about it. “It’s absolutely pathetic – they don’t even tell the whole story,” he said.

And, finally,

“It’s not rocket science – it’s just doing all we can and doing it with enthusiasm,” he said. “It’s about putting books at the centre of the curriculum, getting children engaging with worlds beyond their own, reading about complex ideas in an enjoyable way.”

“Just Read with Michael Rosen” airs tomorrow evening, Sunday, February 8, on BBC Four at 9 pm.

A world of difference from the news reported last autumn that a secondary school (high school) in Chesterfield, England, would be turning its library into a “virtual-learning environment” in this new year; the librarian would lose her job.  Author Philip Pullman, alerted by author Alan Gibbons (founder last autumn of The Campaign for the Book) joined in to try to save the school’s library,   sending a letter to the headteacher.  From which,

I am deeply dismayed to learn, from the Campaign for the Book, of your decision to close the library at your school and make the librarian redundant. This simply cannot be in the best interests of your students. A
library, with a dedicated and professional staff, should be at the very heart of any institution devoted to learning. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available, and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.

As for the idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and can be relegated to “break times and after school clubs”, and does not need a qualified librarian to deal with it, that runs contrary to every experience I have ever had as a teacher, as a pupil, and as a writer. …

Have you no idea of the richness and depth of modern (and classic) children’s fiction, and the profound importance it
has not only in the classroom but in the hearts and minds of the pupils in your care? Have you any idea how valuable the knowledge and experience of librarians is in this field alone? Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction — novels being, in the words of Jane Austen, “work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its
varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” — to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity like stamp-collecting or playing with a frisbee?

I urge you to think again. Do you really want your school to be a by-word for philistinism and ignorance? I can assure you that that will be the result of your present policy.

Or, as Mr. Rosen might put it, it’s not rocket science, is it?

*  *  *

Interestingly, while looking for the links to Mr. Rosen’s books, the following came up at Amazon.com:

Promoting Reading for Pleasure in the Primary School by Michael Lockwood, originally published in the UK last June.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Pullman offers the following blurb, emphasis mine:

This book is first class. It puts the matter very clearly and succinctly, and presents a great deal of evidence to support the argument that pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about. It also gives readers plenty of ideas for carrying the principle into the classroom, and for justifying it… This is an excellent piece of work, which I hope will find a place on every staffroom bookshelf.

Then again, it’s not rocket science, is it?

Then again, we’re at the point where the idea that “pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about” requires justifying.

2 Responses

  1. Terrible irony when so much of life’s other virtual pursuits are purely entertainment-based. Maybe another reading of Amusing Ourselves to Death is in order.

    Anecdotally speaking, I remember falling in love with Khayyam’s Rubaiyat and the inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy in high school English. Of course they were only excerpts. Did they think that was enough? Was it meant to give us a taste and encourage us to read more on our own? Was it just another example of dumbing down?

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