Friday, December 26, 2003

Wish I could be in London. The National Theatre is showcasing a production of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I cannot imagine how they will tell this story on stage.

It is going to be done in two plays. Some great actors are performing including, Timothy Dalton and Patricia Hodge (Phyllida Erskine-Brown from Rumpole.) The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass are probably some of the most original "children's" books that have ever been written. People who have their knickers in a twist over Harry Potter would melt down if they could read the Amber Spyglass (though I suspect it would be too difficult for them.)

Pullman has some thoughtful commentary about "reading" and teaching. It is worth your time to read the whole thing. Reliance on programs such as AR and curriculum written by legislators take much of the joy out of reading.

They think that reading consists of using a range of strategies to decode, selecting, retrieving, deducing, inferring, interpreting, identifying and commenting on the structure and organisation of texts, identifying and commenting on the writer's purposes and viewpoints, relating texts to the social, cultural and historical contexts.

That's it. That's all. Nothing else. That's what they want children of 11 to do when they read. They don't seem to know that reading can also be enjoyed, because enjoyment just doesn't feature in the list of things you have to do.

He continues...
What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it's "slaves' work, unredeemed.”

Those who design this sort of thing seem to have completely forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it. That's the true reason we should be giving books to children.

I was struck by the following passage from his lecture. I have often asked my own daughters if their teachers have told them the "story" behind the story. Too often the answer has been "no."
I want to champion teaching as telling stories: I think we should bring back story-telling into our class-rooms, and do it at once. And I mean all kinds of stories: not just that every teacher should have a repertoire of fairy tales or ghost stories that they can bring out on a wet Friday afternoon, or when the video breaks down on a field study weekend – though I do mean that, and in spades; but true stories about historical events, about music and musicians, about engineers and engineering, about archaeology, about science, about the theatre, about politics, about exploration, about art – in fact stories about every kind of human activity...

And when you're telling a story, you need to let the story take its own time. Never mind these programmes and units and key stages; to hell with them. If the children want to go on listening, then go on telling.

And when you come to the end of the story, stop. Turn away from it. Let it do its own work in its own time; don't tear it into rags by making the poor children analyse, and comment, and compare, and interpret. Good God, the world is full of stories, full of true nourishment for the heart and the mind and the imagination; and this true nourishment is lying all around our children, untouched, and they're being force-fed on ashes and saw-dust and potato-peelings.