Friday, 3 October 2014

Is This Education?

Having spent several decades as a secondary school English teacher, I cannot let this article in The Times pass without comment.

          English A-level students will study Russell Brand, Jamie Oliver and Dizzee Rascal, despite accusations from within government that classwork was being “dumbed down”.
          Television clips of the comedian, the chef and the rapper have been approved for teaching next year. Sixth formers will also study the Twitter feed of Times columnist Caitlin Moran, an episode from the children’s TV show Horrible Histories and a comic-style graphic story alongside conventional classic and contemporary literature.
           “This is exactly the kind of dumbing down we are trying to get rid of,” a Department for Education source said at the time. “They must be having a laugh if they think A levels in Dizzee Rascal and Russell Brand are going to be let through.”
          Yesterday, however, the OCR exam board announced that its A level in English language and literature had been approved by Ofqual. It will be taught in schools next year, with pupils sitting AS levels in the qualification in 2016 and redesigned linear A levels in June 2017.
Asked if the content was dumbed down, Ms Bleiman replied: “Absolutely not. This is about serious linguistic study. We have chosen what we think are absolutely fascinating high-quality examples of language in use.”
          Clips of Dizzee Rascal interviewed on Newsnight, Oliver speaking to camera on a cookery show and Brand giving evidence on drugs to a committee of MPs are among 20 set texts for one element of the course and may crop up in exam questions, as may Moran’s streams of consciousness on Twitter. 
The Times

          Well, Ofqual can insist this isn't dumbing down if they like, but television clips and a children's TV show weren't on the A Level syllabus when I was at school. We struggled through Chaucer (in the original), Milton, Shakespeare and Donne - and we rose to the challenge. Without help I wouldn't have coped with those writers then, but I can enjoy them now, thanks to my teachers. Surely that is the purpose of education. 
          What is the point of A Level English if it only exposes young minds to texts they can access by themselves? Or are today's A Level students unable to understand and appreciate TV's Horrible Histories without support? 

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