Friday, 17 February 2017

Studying English

used to be compulsory. It seems it isn't any more. Even if you do a subject called "English Studies" you don't seem to really study any literature. 
The new English course allows for the study of just one novel and one play. It allows for the study of two films and various forms of "short" communication...perhaps a bit of poetry, a short story  but please include "visual" and "graphic" communication. Apparently this is "studying English".
English was compulsory when I was at school. We "did" Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Joyce, Yeats, and Eliot...and much more.  
The Senior Cat taught English, along with being school principal. It was the way things were in rural area schools. And, it can hardly be said that many of the country students were interested in Shakespeare or Dickens or Austen or anyone else like that - until the Senior Cat got hold of them. Some of them were still not enthusiastic but they managed to learn enough to do well in the exams that followed. 
Almost everyone read books because television was difficult to get, reception was poor. You had to generate your own electricity. 
Yes, I know it is different now. Teenagers do not read as much - unless you count text messages. There are other things to do.
The idea of studying English, of having to read, of having to actually think about a text is all too much it seems.
I can remember one of those lists floating around a few years back. It was something to do with the one hundred books everyone should read. I know I had read most of them.  Middle Cat looked at it and shrugged. She had not read more than three - all required reading for school. She does read but "not that sort of stuff". There was another list of some sort where you had to try and recognise the last lines from novels. They made it easy enough I suppose. You were given the last line and three books to choose from. I got most of those too. I recognised some and I could guess others from the style. 
Yes. I read. I read a lot. I don't read all the things I "ought" to read. I am not likely to read "Crime and Punishment" for instance. I started it and decided it wasn't something I wanted to read - but I did look at it. 
The Senior Cat read a lot to me. He read to me from the time I was old enough to sit on his bony knee and follow his finger along the black squiggles on the page. I progressed rapidly from simple picture  books to "chapter" books, to other books. He saw to it that I was introduced to classics like "Wind in the Willows", "Peter Pan", "Alice in Wonderland", "Five Children and It", and "The Princess and Curdie". Later he read bits of James Joyce, the poetry of Yeats and Eliot, and much more.
My last English teacher at school added to all that. There were books she enthused about - and I was the only student in the class who shared her enthusiasm for reading. I was, she told me years later, a "joy to teach". Really? She was a joy to have as a teacher.
Later still the late Judith Wright introduced me to more and more. "Read this Cat", "here's something else you need to read", "you need to know about this Cat". Oh yes, she made me read. 
      "What's the point?" asked the person I know who proudly claims not to have read a book since he left school. 
Is there any point to reading? Does it matter if people don't? What if people simply stopped writing? Aren't there enough books in the world?  Yes, I have heard all those questions and more.
My answer to that is a passionate, "Yes, it does matter. It matters a lot. If we don't read then we miss out on so much.  Television and film are fleeting."
One book, one play is not enough. Reading connects us to the rest of humanity.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad I learned to read ... it is pure joy to read a good book, and great to be able to learn about the world around us, and how to do things.

Jodiebodie said...

Oh, don't get me started! My 'high schooler' (yes, 'button girl' is in high school now!) spent more time last year trying to come to grips with a new piece of software for every assignment set by the English teacher than actually doing much reading and writing.

The girl who loved reading used to say, "I love English. I'm looking forward to it because last year was a real blast!" but soon changed her tune to, "I dread English".

A novel that should be required reading, was only touched upon in the class and the children were asked to read set excerpts. The students weren't allowed to take the novels home to read at all. What's the point of giving a child an interest in a piece of literature only to restrict their access to it? The 'missing bits' were never revisited in the class time either. I figured that teacher definitely was not an English teacher but more interested in trying to look clever by using as many different software packages as possible.

All it did was to frustrate the students who really loved English and wanted to get on with reading and writing, not drawing pictures, making models or posting on Instagram!
Outrageous. This year, the school has propelled the teacher to "Head of Online Learning". Good luck with that!

Beside a babbling brook... said...

Another sad reminder, that 'today' is so different, from 'yesterday.' -sigh-

And how lucky you were, to be read to, as a little one. I wasn't. And I didn't get exposed to as many books, in high school, either. But happily, I caught up, when grown. :-)

And what grade school teacher, do I remember most? Mrs. Murray. Who read to us, at times, during school time!!!! :-) It was a tiny school. 2 classes to a room. She had 3rd and 4th. And when reading time came, we all sat and listened. Oh I loved that!!!

Thank you, for bringing up, the memory.

Luna Crone