To Kill a What?

Young people don’t read.

It’s a fact.

Out of 10 young people, just 3 of them read daily in their own time. These are figures that were collected by the National Literacy Trust. In 2005 the figure was 5/10, by 2011 it had dropped to 3/10.

Between the ages of 8-11 and 14-16 the percentage of young people who enjoy reading drops from 73% to 34%.

These figures are startling; they’re a truth that those of us who love to read can’t understand.

Let’s face it, reading in school can be difficult, it can be frustrating, it can be boring. I remember lesson after lesson where one pupil wanted to read aloud each and every time; she wasn’t a very good reader, but she wanted to do it. For the class it made it a little boring and tiresome, but with hindsight I know that that probably helped her to become a better reader.

We’re forced to read a lot of different stories in school. In secondary school it becomes more important that we read the ‘classics’, stories which have stood the test of time like no other.

Shakespeare. Mark Twain. Emily Bronte. William Golding. George Orwell. John Steinbeck. Harper Lee. Bill Naughton. Willy Russell.

The list feels endless. The possibilities are many.

We all explore the moors of 19th Century Britain, the streets of Liverpool and the Deep South, the cities of Verona, Athens and Vienna, an uninhabited island, or dystopian Britain.

Whichever books you are exposed to in school, whichever stories you are forced to read, there are some which stay with us forever.

I have fond memories of studying To Kill a Mockingbird, Blood Brothers and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Others will feel differently about those very same stories.

The fact is, we were given a glimpse into other worlds, we were exposed to stories that we might not have sought out on our own and for that I am grateful.

Today it was announced that Michael Gove – Education Secretary: the man who should be looking out for the bright young minds of tomorrow – has decided the reading list in schools should only contain British authors.

Something which I believe is a travesty.

There is some belief that there are plenty of brilliant novels written by British authors, so what is the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that whilst there are many amazing British novels, there are also many amazing novels written by authors of other countries.

Who is Michael Gove to say which books should or shouldn’t be covered in the curriculum? He is but one man who seems to have a very specific idea about literature and education.

I do not agree that this move is the right one.

Two of the three books I remember from school with the most happiness were written by American authors/playwrights. I have since enjoyed several other books by American authors who I did not read in school, but who have been on the curriculum at some point in time.

Let us reverse this silly idea that we must only explore books written by UK authors for a moment. Let us pretend that we’re from the United States and actually, we should only be studying books from American authors.

The Bronte Sisters. Gone.

George Orwell. Gone.

Shakespeare. Gone.

These are classics which are known the world over. They are studied in schools across the globe. They are sources of tourism; they are connections to British history and themes which are not always explored in a history lesson.

It would be unthinkable to remove Shakespeare from any curriculum.

Let us return to reality.

Harper Lee. Gone.

Mark Twain. Gone.

John Steinbeck. Gone.

Important time periods in American history that young people in education do not get taught in the UK are being wiped from the curriculum. That insight into the past in countries we don’t necessarily know much about is being taken away.

Young people who do not care much for reading will not be able to fall in love with To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or Huckleberry Finn. They will not go out of their way to read these books that have not been forced upon them and they will not learn the lessons that generations of children have been learning from these great American novels.

Yes, there are some wonderful books of British literature, but there are also some wonderful books that aren’t British literature, and Michael Gove’s act will mean generations of young people will never know how great they are.

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4 thoughts on “To Kill a What?

  1. I agree with you. I dont know why classics are forced upon children. In India, there is similar obsession feeding kids with Shakespeare as young as twelve. They are so unconnected with the books in their curriculum and end up marking reading as boring or academic

    1. I think there’s two sides to classics – they can make people hate them, and they can make people love them.

      But to get a varied education children and young people should be exposed to lots of different types of literature. Not just modern books, not just books aimed at children, not just books native to their own country.

      I find Shakespeare hard to digest because of the vast difference in language when the plays were written. But at the same time, Shakespeare is an important part of literary history and we shouldn’t completely omit his works. It’s about balance!

      Someone on Twitter suggested modern books like Twilight and The Hunger Games shouldn’t ever be on the curriculum and whilst I agree that many modern books shouldn’t be, some would be interesting to analyse. I’d love to debate The Hunger Games in a classroom because of the moral themes explored, and Harry Potter is already a modern classic.

      1. I agree with you that we need to explore more horizon while designing curriculum for kids. I know Shakespeare is important for the history of the language and his command over drama literature but I think so 12 year olds are too young for his language.

        While I have no problem with inclusion of Hunger games and Harry Potter, both series are in popular culture and will have more attention from the students, i also believe the room should be made for historical fiction, specially based on World Wars, cold war, to be included to give broader perceptive of book reading to school going kids.

      2. I agree, whilst some 12 year olds could grasp Shakespeare, others might struggle. But there are other ways to exposure children to Shakespeare without frightening them off – take them to the theatre, let them see it on the stage and then they can discuss it. Saving the actual written text for when they’re more capable of understanding the language. Heck, they could even show some of the films that have been based on Shakespeare plays: Leonardo Dicaprio and Clare Danes’ Romeo & Juliet, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, O, there are plenty of ways to explore Shakespearian stories.

        We do get some historical fiction included in our curriculum – when I was younger I got to read some wonderful British authors who wrote beautiful children’s stories set in the second world war. There are other authors, however, who have written more adult books set in the first and second world war. I’m sure there are many who will have written about other wars since, and wars before. It’s a great way to capture the minds of young people who may be interested in battles, or love stories, or dramas, in a way that is educational in a historical sense as well as literary.

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