It is time to put an end to the nonsense of Literacy. Why? Because it has not worked and our nation’s children are suffering from it’s imposition by swivel-eyed fanatics at the end of the last century.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s university english departments were taken over by Deconstructionism. What does that mean? It means forget the story, forget the entertainment value, forget the book, let’s analyse the text for hidden meanings to prove how clever we are. It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes in action. “If you don’t think deconstructionism is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you are a philistine and know nothing about literature,” students were told. Empires were built on this premise. Academic careers built on the sand that is now beginning to shift.
The students of this new way of thinking came out into the world ready to impose their new ideas on education. What they came up with was Literacy.
The half-witted Tony Blair, having promised Education, Education, Education in the 1997 election, fell prey to all the new experts who were desperate to prove their new ideas. I met one or two of them at the time. Dead-eyed, cold fish they were too. They spoke like totalitarian dictators. “We are right. This is the new system. All will change and you will believe what we say.”
We now have almost two generations of teachers, who have been brought up with this mush. Teachers who have been told what to teach and when. I know things have been softening a bit recently, but I feel the icy winds of Conservative dogma blowing in the wings that will probably put things back a another fifteen years.
Two generations of Literacy teachers have been taught nothing about books!
How are children ever going to learn to read to expected standards and beyond, if teachers don’t know about children’s books. Do you know that Literacy Co-odinators have admitted to me that they don’t read books at home!
I come across schools where great emphasis is placed on books. Usually the school is run by a charismatic head who pushes book reading regardless, and finds funds to buy books from somewhere. When they employ new, young teachers, they have to explain to them about books and the school’s belief in their use in the learning of teaching in a process of re-education not too dissimilar to the de-progamming cult members.
Is it important to get children to read?
Duh! I have to ask myself this question all the time, because I don’t think the education system believes it is important. I have to keep reaffirming the truth to myself. Individual teachers know it’s incredibly important but they have to struggle against the dictats of the system. Teachers are not allowed to teach. They are there to promote current political ideologies, and a whole new raft of them are coming along any day now – all change, once again.
We live in a knowledge society. As a country we will come to rely on our children being bright, clever, inventive and imaginative. There is no room for factory fodder anymore – we don’t have the factories for education’s failures to work in. If we are to survive as a great country, it will be because we come up with great ideas, follow them through and sell them to the rest of the world. This is not done by analysing text.
Books allow the imagination to roam free. A page of text to be analysed does not. How can a child engage with an extract without knowing who the characters are and where they have come from? Is preposition counting really going to bring us out of the recession?
For God’s sake – give children books to read. Whole books with real stories that engage children and make them want to read more. let them discuss stories not pronouns. The only way to learn to read is to get on and do it. Like any other skill it takes practice and to get good at it requires thousands of hours of practice. While practicing, readers see how how writing is done and all that reading practice flows into their own writing.
How often do I get asked, “How can we get our boys to write?” ‘Get them to read!” I say. It’s something that has never seemed to occur to the questioners.
It’s such a shame. Just before Blair got in to power, Glennis Kinnock was leading “The Real Books Movement”, which poured real books into schools. Books and stories that children could relate to. In my experience, schools that adopt this approach, that make reading – and more importantly, the fun of reading – the centre of their school day, leap forward in all areas, because children become confident with books and so become confident with new ideas, where to find them and how to research for themselves. There is an extraordinary confidence in the children you meet in a book-centric school that you don’t find elsewhere.
What can be done?
Well for a start, put education in charge of teachers and not politicians. In the same way the Bank of England took control of monetary policy, the Bank of Education should take over education policy for the sake of the country and not for the sake of crackpot politicians who have only a couple of years to make their mark.
Then say goodbye to Literacy. Find out about children’s books and promote them to children. Find the right books for the right child. Encourage children to discuss their favourite books with each other – swap them with each other. make them read ebooks or motorcycle magazines if you have to, but get them engaged in the act of sustained reading. It is THE ONLY WAY to improve reading and writing skills.
Allow children to read whole stories – that means from beginning to end.
Make it a rule that the last half hour of every school day is story time, even in secondary school. Teachers must read stories out aloud. It is a primal way of teaching and sharing information that children relate to instantly. Storytelling and sharing stories is at the heart of learning to read
Books are about stories. We learn to read so that we can read stories. That is how humans relate to each other. Let children read stories and throw away all those photocopied abstracts for analysis.
In the meantime – all you english students of the 1980s, get down on your knees, say sorry and beg for the forgiveness of the nation you have so badly served, then scurry away to enjoy your retirement and let the rest of us get on with the job of getting this country back off it’s knees.