Thursday, 14 November 2013

There are renewed complaints about

the English curriculum. An academic has said that grammar has not been taught for forty years.
That is not quite true.  I was taught some grammar and my brother was taught some grammar. My sisters were not taught grammar. The Whirlwind has been taught some grammar. Her school believes such things are an essential part of education.
If the Whirlwind's mother was alive the Whirlwind would probably be attending the local high school. It once had an excellent reputation. My mother went there. She was taught Latin by one of the men who had written the textbook. My brother went there for the final year of his secondary education. He did not do Latin.
The Senior Cat went to another school. He was taught by the other man who had written the textbook.
Both my parents claimed that learning Latin taught them more about grammar than learning about grammar as part of English.
I was not taught Latin at all. What I know about Latin I taught myself as an extra subject. Having done Latin at university the Senior Cat would check what I was doing but he had no time to teach me. Grammar certainly came into it.
Unfortunately I did not have very long learning Latin. I changed schools again and the idea that I might continue with it was soon ridiculed. Why, I was asked, did I want to do anything like that? 
It was too late to pick up German, the modern language taught at the school I was attending. That did not stop me learning some German but it was very little and of very little use. I assume those learning German were taught grammar but it did not concern me. Of course I was also taught English by a number of people. One of them was the woman who also taught the journalists of our state newspaper. There was no time for teaching grammar in the classroom but she took me to one side and taught me many other things that were also not included in the curriculum. As she was over seventy-five at the time she would, if still alive,  be well over one hundred now.
I often wonder what she would make of the modern English curriculum. We "did" Shakespeare and Dickens and Hardy. We "did" Wordsworth and Keats, Kenneth Slessor and Judith Wright. The Senior Cat gave me Shakespearean sonnets in primary school - as well as introducing me to passages in the writings of James Joyce. When the first eighteen chapters of David Copperfield were set for the old Intermediate the Senior Cat handed me the book and said "read ALL of it".  I read more Dickens later. I think I have read all of Shakespeare's plays. I have not read all of Hardy or some of the other "greats" of English literature. I have no particular desire to do so. I have read a lot of poetry - but not nearly enough. One of my other English teachers gave me a long list of books she thought I "should" read. I read some but not others.
The English teacher who taught grammar to journalists introduced me to many more books. She gave me the first poem I read by TS Eliot. "It's difficult Cat but it will be worth trying to read it."
And yes, it was both difficult and worth the effort.
Later I had the enormous good fortune to have the late Judith Wright guide my reading as well. Some of her ideas would have surprised many people. I had, for example, the vague idea that I "should" read Patrick White. Her reaction was "whatever for?" I still tried but soon abandoned him. I know he won the Nobel Prize and that other people think he is wonderful but I found no pleasure in his work.
I have just indulged in the purchase of the new edition of Neruda's "Odes". I will savour it slowly. It is a bilingual version. My Spanish is not good enough to read the original but the presence of the Spanish adds depth to the translations.
I wonder if I would read Neruda if I was a present day English student brought up to believe that studying a film poster is part of studying the English language? Would it lead me to read poetry or novels in translation from other languages? I wonder what present day students are missing out on - and what I am not experiencing.  I think however I have been fortunate to have so many people suggest things I might like to read.
Have you read books because your teachers suggested them? What have you read?  

1 comment:

Judy Edmonds said...

Oh, I love that Judith Wright said that about Patrick White! I have read quite a bit of his stuff and find it interesting but it is definitely hard work and not for everyone and I would never say that anyone 'had' to read him - or anyone else for that matter.

I was taught some grammar at school, learnt more by studying French, and most of all picked up a lot of my grammar and spelling skills just from reading a lot of decent writing.

I like it when people recommend books to me, so long as they know me well enough to make an informed recommendation. I dislike any blanket approach to 'you must read this because ....'