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them so have you ever thought about teaching?
me ha! no I'd rather shoot myself
Them Why?
Me because the education system sucks beyond reckoning
them its not that bad, it could do with more money...
Me No I mean its inherently flawed, taking thirty kids to one adult and teaching them a very narrow range of things that "matter" is ridiculous and damaging
Them It works for most of them
Me no it doesnt, lots of them fall through, and even the ones it does work for dont actually find out what they are good at, what if someone is really unacademic but really good at something that isn't seen as particularly important, like music, or cooking, or building? the education system should give space for people to find and develop their potential not squash it
Them That will never happen

Good grief, also there's always an underlying assumption in this line of questioning that what I'm doing is less important than teaching, that just because I'm not a "Teacher" means that I don't teach, and I just want to scream at them sometimes that I have spent most of my professional life rescuing and supporting kids that their oh so precious education system has failed and abandoned

This is not a rant against teachers I think teaching is a valuable, hard, thankless job, its a rant against the education system and the people who think what I do isn't as important as formal teaching.
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The Daily Mail in its usual foretelling of doom and societal breakdown mode has decided that teenage fiction is bad for its intended audience, only in usual Daily Mail style it conflates tenuously connected things and then comes to ridiculous conclusions. The article starts with:

Children's books are becoming so violent and sexualised they should be accompanied by explicit content warnings, it has been claimed

then goes on to say of the two books featured in the article that they:

had 'knife' in the title - Patrick Ness's winning effort The Knife Of Never Letting Go, and Anthony McGowan's The Knife That Killed Me. Both books were aimed at the 12-plus market.

Books aimed at the 12 plus market are not children’s books, and they need to be tackling issues that both effect young people and that young people are interested in, which these books are doing.

The Mail quotes Dr Tutt as saying

'The level of violence and adult themes in children's books is a worrying trend.

People didn't used to write for young children in this vein”

I think it isn’t true that these books are more violent than they used to be, its just as society had become more individualised so has literature, when I was reading teen books there was a lot of violence, it was just structural, holocaust, apocalypse, plague, war Brother in the land, children of the dust, tomorrow when the war began, Plague99 and the books weren't any less disturbing for it.

While as a genre I prefer apocalyptic/post apocalyptic adolescent literature I like that there are more adolescent books dealing with interpersonal violence, We live in a violent society, we shouldn’t but we do, and what else is adolescent literature for if not equipping adolescents with tools to deal with life? If they have learnt through fiction what violence looks like and what causes it then they will be better able to avoid it. Adolescent literature doesn’t create the society we live in it reacts to it.

Also if we are talking about the dangers of telling “very young children” (actual very young children, not twelve year olds) stories with violence in have we forgotten that we tell them fairy stories, that we tell them of children being, stolen, abandoned eaten? Why are fairy stories okay and teenage fiction not?

I know this is the Daily Mail and usually I would just roll my eyes and sigh in exasperation, but the whole article reminds me far too much of the Education for Leisure debacle, in which one of Carol Ann Duffy's poems was pulled from the GCSE syllabus because it was seen to be celebrating knife crime. (My favorite exploration of the issue is here.)

While I’m really pleased that Carol Ann Duffy is being taught in school, I'm also really frustrated that people who are, presumably, in charge of what gets taught and how, are so poetry illiterate that they read this poem in a diametrically opposite way to how it is intended. While there are many ways of reading poems this reading of it makes no sense at all, Duffy’s agent said:

"It's a pro-education, anti-violence poem written in the mid-1980s when Thatcher was in power and there were rising social problems and crime. It was written as a plea for education. How, 20 years later, it had been turned on itself and presented to mean the opposite I don't know. You can't say that it celebrates knife crime. What it does is the opposite."

But also what if any of these pieces of literature were celebrating knife crime? Would that be a reason to condemn them? To stop teenagers reading them? I don’t think so. They would still create a space to have discussions around why violence happens and what can be done about it. Are we supposed to shield teenagers from the world at the very point when they are psychologically and socially most equipped to learn how it works, and then what do we do? Once they hit eighteen we just let them loose into a society that they are unprepared for? Also what is very often forgotten or deliberately eclipsed in these moral crusades is that teenagers are, statistically, much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

But if we did want to stop teenagers accessing violence in literature, (which is not a goal I would aim for anyway) why are we picking on these genres, why are we up in arms about adolescent literature and modern poetry, is it because we don’t take them seriously as literature, as art?

If parents and educators complained about the sex and violence in Shakespeare I somehow doubt that would be take of the syllabus or if there were complaints about Browning's My Last Duchess celebrating the murder of non compliant women Even though violence against women is much more prevalent in this society than knife crime

It seems we can, as a culture, talk this way about adolescent literature and modern poetry because we don’t see it as real literature, on the same syllabus as Education for Leisure are Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men, both of which deal with violence, but it seems they get a pass because they are really literature.

xposted to my other blog


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October 2010

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