E Jane Dickson: Showing films is no way to teach English

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Let me be clear. I am no hobbit fancier. As a very young woman I made a habit of scanning the bookshelves of prospective boyfriends for Elvish tendencies. One glimpse of a well-thumbed Tolkien and I was out of there.

Now, as the mother of a teenage boy (a condition calculated to extinguish most youthful ideals), I would of course welcome his reading Tolkien – or, indeed, any novelist capable of full sentences – with near hysterical relief. Moreover, I'm ready to join the hairy legion protesting their outrage at the decision of a Hollywood production company which, having scooped up worldwide merchandising rights to The Hobbit, is bringing the full weight of corporate law against a Hampshire pub of the same name.

No matter that generations of schoolboys have imagined their own version of Tolkien's characters long before Martin Freeman pasted on his whiskers, Middle-earth Enterprises (there's a notion to set JRR spinning in his grave) is apparently concerned that the pub's amateur artwork and themed cocktails threaten The Hobbit's newly minted Hollywood identity. If it turns out to be a victory for corporate punctiliousness it will, I fear, be a nail in the coffin of literacy.

It's not as if another nail were needed. Yesterday's Ofsted report warned that literacy in UK schools is "flatlining", with one in five primary school-leavers failing to meet expected standards. Professional debate rumbles on about preferred methods of teaching the basic ABCs (phonics is the system du jour) but the bottom line is depressingly obvious. Not enough children are reading enough books.

I've lost count of the number of times I've asked my children, "What did you do in English today?" and been informed that not just days, but entire weeks of the curriculum are given over to watching film versions of literary classics. I don't so much mind that my son thinks Grendel's mother looks like Angelina Jolie (I dare say it would have been a while before he got round to Beowulf anyway) but I mind very much being told that teachers "don't have the time" to correct grammar and punctuation, and I'm not thrilled that the Shakespeare module on my daughter's Eng Lit GSCE course, while low on textual analysis, awards generous marks for her appreciation of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

The film version of a literary classic can, more or less beautifully, convey a narrative, but it obviates the enlarging, imaginative experience of building up worlds from words. And the marvellous by-product of this enlarging experience is that just by dint of having words rather than pictures pass before their eyes, children learn about paragraphs and punctuation and all the other things that schools are apparently unwilling or unable to teach.

So here is my austerity tip for a cash-strapped, ideology-bound Department for Education. Just read the books and the "literacy" comes free.

Looks like Ed needs a bit of coaxing

I'm not sure what we're to make of the fact that Ed Miliband's wife calls him "Sweetie" at tender moments. To me, it's an endearment one might use to coax a dumbstruck child from behind his mother's legs, the kind of word you might use if you were essentially on his side, but increasingly irritated by his refusal to stand up for himself, for Pete's sake, and say something. There again, I'm sure Justine, left, means something quite different by it....

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?