It often surprises people to learn that I gave up English at 16. As someone who earns a living from writing, and a keen reader too, I'm expected to have at least an A ‘level in the subject.
The reason I don’t is simple. You couldn’t study English Language at my sixth form college. It was English Literature or nothing. I hated English Literature, so I opted for nothing.
Shakespeare left me cold. It still does. If I want to read in a foreign language then I’ll learn something useful like German.
At 16, Thomas Hardy and Steinbeck depressed me. Chaucer, Hemmingway, Gerald Manley Hopkins…no thanks!
There, I’ve said it. My guilty secret is out. Please don’t yell at me. I can’t help what I like and it’s not that.
I’m not alone either. A few months ago, Orli Vogt-Vincet (the 15 year old book blogger) wrote for the Guardian, ‘I Love books so why do I hate studying English GCSE?’
Orli argues that, ‘We need a bigger variety of fiction, modern and classic that have themes that can be translated and can be relevant to teenagers today...’ She also says, ‘we need books that bring up intense messages of modern themes: sexism, racism, homosexuality. It’s not even like these books don’t exist…’
I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve talked to other teenagers about the books they’ve read in school. Joe told me that his class spent a term studying Holes by Louis Sachar. He loved it the first time they read it. He’d quite enjoyed it the second time, too. But after a term spent re-reading, dissecting and analysing the text Joe confessed that he hated not just Holes but reading full stop!
Can you blame him?
Reading is an essential life skill. It’s something that can be taught.
Reading for pleasure, encouraging children to become lifelong readers can’t be. That takes encouragement, enthusiasm and above all passion.
It’s about time we listened to the young. Ask them what they want to read. What they’d like to see on the English Literature curriculum. It doesn’t matter if it's comics, magazines, fiction, non- fiction or the manual that comes with the PlayStation. If it has words then it counts as reading.
You’d never force an adult to read a book they’re not enjoying. Why then, if we want to encourage more children to read for pleasure, do we force books on them and then over analyse the content?
|What my 13 year old self thought of 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemingway|