Friday, 28 September 2018

Fostering a love of literature!

I spent this afternoon strolling around in the sunshine with my daughter and her smallest daughter. We quacked at the ducks and she pointed out Mummy Ducks and Daddy Ducks, quite correctly I hasten to add. She played on the playground in the park. She showed us interesting leaves.

And, most importantly, we went to the library.

She lay down on her front on the floor, feet in the air, head up, and “read” books. She’s quite happy and relaxed in the library. As we left, having borrowed about six books, she received a sticker from the librarian, stuck it carefully in her library borrowing record book, thanked the librarian politely, said goodbye and showed us the way out.

She is two years old!

When I got home I found this that someone, a secondary school English teacher, had posted this on Facebook:

“This is Biff.

This is Chip.

This is Biff and Chip's homework. Biff and Chip are required to write down ten examples of fronted adverbials.

Biff and Chip have not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is.

This is Mum.

Mum has not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is either.

“We don't know what a fronted adverbial is," whinge Biff and Chip. "This homework is impossible. You will have to help us."

 "It's not my homework, it's your homework," says Mum, thanking her lucky stars that she did not have to engage in any of this fronted adverbial bollocks when she was at school.

This is Dad. Dad still struggles to distinguish between a noun and a verb, and would not know a fronted adverbial if one came up and punched him in the face.

 Biff and Chip think for a moment about asking Dad for help.

They decide to Google instead.

This is Mrs May. When Mrs May went into teaching she honestly believed she would be able to spend her time helping children to love learning. And putting on plays. Mrs May loves a play. She did not realise that a love of learning would not feature on the National Curriculum at all, and that she would instead be forced to meet a series of impossible and continuously moving goalposts which successive governments would put in place, and have to teach her classes about ridiculous concepts such as fronted adverbials which, in all honesty, are only ever likely to be of use if they end up becoming professors of linguistics. Or primary school teachers. If truth be told, Mrs May has not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is either.

This is Floppy the dog. Floppy holds no truck with fronted adverbials. Floppy eats the fronted adverbial homework sheet.

Floppy knows that he is a fucking liability, and waits to be told so.
No one is more surprised than Floppy when the entire family gather around and tell him "Oh GOOD dog Floppy."

 Floppy feels this is proof positive that some good can come from fronted adverbials after all.

Later at school, Biff and Chip are, for the first time, able to legitimately use the excuse: "My dog ate my homework."

Mrs May breathes a secret sigh of relief that that is one less set of incomprehensible and entirely incorrect homework that she has to plough through, and suggests to the class that they will all put on a play instead to celebrate.”

 Somebody else replied with this:

 “Manically, Mr Gove chuckled as he rubbed his hands together in glee. Arrogantly, he had always suspected that he would be known across the land. In cavalier fashion, he didn't care whether he was loved or hated just as long as he had power! Sadly, Mrs May and other good teachers up and down the land abandoned teaching in favour of easier professions such as lion taming or quantum physics.” 

It’s that kind of fronted adverbial (a term unheard of until Mr Give had it invented) nonsense that can put children off reading and writing for ever!

And then they might never have the chance to appreciate Shakespeare, whose works, by the way, should be seen rather than read.

I got round to this because last night I went to see King Lear. It was not really at the theatre but the next best thing: a live performance from a London theatre transmitted to selected cinemas around the country. I saw it at Home, in central Manchester, with a few friends. It was introduced by Kirsty Wark, who took the opportunity to tell us about future such transmissions.

This performance starred Sir Ian McKellen who at eighty years old decided he wanted to have another go at Lear, being the same age as that unfortunate king. The performance was electrifying. All the actors did a tremendous job.

The actress who played Regan portrayed her as edgy, nervy, highly sexed, almost nymphomaniac, unable to keep her hands off her husband and then off Edmond, illegitimate son of Gloucester. It was interesting to see such a portrayal of a woman using her sexuality to gain power. Well, I thought so. Did they direct her to play it this way particularly on this age of #metoo?

 But it was Sir Ian McKellen, of course, who impressed most. At eighty years old, to be able to keep up that performance for almost three hours is quite something. In some scenes he was soaking wet. They used 2000 litres of water during the performance. Later I found myself hoping that they had warm towels ready for him as he came off stage; surely they needed to make sure he did not catch pneumonia. At the time though there was no time for such reflection.

In the final scene he walks onto the stage carrying Cordelia on his back. Now, the actress playing Cordelia was only very slight but even if she weighed only six or seven stone that is a phenomenal amount for an old gent to carry onto the stage! What an honour for all those younger actors to be able to say they were onstage alongside such a man! What a privilege to have seen it.

And that is why, in my opinion, we should be teaching our children to love reading, to love words, to love language and not burden them with nonsense.

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