I am not a banner-waving politico, but what I read today chilled my blood.
A teaser in this morning’s Book Trade News Book2Book rang an alarm - “Government Considers Reading List For [UK] Primary Schools” - and I followed the link to an article on BBC Education which starts “Primary schools could be asked to teach an approved list of books and authors, under new plans being looked at by the government's curriculum review.”
Ooooh, have I been here before…
Many years ago, like back in 1995, I answered the phone to find myself being solicited by a pressure group to endorse the principle “all children should learn by heart from a canon of great literature”. I didn’t even need to think about it; I refused point blank.
My early teenage reading had been turned from a journey of delight into a war of attrition by being forced to read and précis twelve set books a year, their titles staring down from the wall above my desk. I recall huge blocks of impenetrable dark print, convoluted sentence structures I could barely comprehend, words I could hardly pronounce. At the tender age of eleven I had been quietly immersed in The Great British Classics and left to drown.
I remember the pressure-group petitioner being appalled by my reaction. In return I demanded to know whose ‘canon of great literature’ would be used as set texts: those of the English, the British, the Indian sub-continent, the West Indies? All I received was an echoing silence.
I make the same point now as I tried then. Which approved list of books will primary children be made to read? Those suited to the preparatory schools of the Harrow and Eton look-alikes? Will the same list be shovelled down the throats of a 90% ethnic Pakistani class in the Midlands, or a 90% ethnic Eastern European class in Lincolnshire?
All under-elevens attending school should be introduced to the wonderland that waits beyond the portal of the written word, not indoctrinated in what is perceived to be good and what is perceived to be bad by a set of faceless bureaucrats referring to themselves as “experts”. Especially when friends of these “experts” are either closing libraries or replacing knowledgeable librarians with counter assistants taking home the minimum wage.
And if readers are wondering how my memory is so sharp that I can recall a single phone conversation from sixteen years ago, it is because I've just reread the stinging article on the exchange I wrote for my regional newspaper The Yorkshire Post. Now, there's an idea...