Letter: English teachers oppose government-prescribed book list

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard's invective against English teachers ('The loose canons of academe', 16 March) is insulting and backward looking. If Mr Appleyard were to spend any time in a contemporary classroom he would realise just how out of touch with the real world he is.

The educationalists on the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority English committee who won a vote to make the book list less prescriptive include classroom teachers who know the reality of working with children. What they are asking for is a sentence to be appended to the book list to say that teachers may teach texts they judge to be equivalent to those on the list.

Why should this very modest proposal deserve to be treated with 'derision and contempt'? English teachers, the vast majority of whom are well-qualified, specialist, graduates, should be free to determine the what and when of teaching Shakespeare or any other writer. This concept is known in higher education as academic freedom, and what is good for universities is good for primary and secondary schools.

Most worrying are Mr Appleyard's prejudices against the study of the media and what he terms 'bland multiculturalism'. As a teacher of media studies and English, I know that there are many benefits in applying concepts from one academic area to another. For example, the study of genre and representation in literature provides new insights into texts and the way they work for their readers. As for 'bland multiculturalism', I presume Mr Appleyard prefers robust nationalism and aspires to a cultural and academic cleansing of English literature.

It is a small consolation that, should this ridiculous list become law, I shall be able to tell my pupils that I had nothing to do with the decision. As my class of 14-year-olds plods through a 'classic' of English literature such as Little Women I shall stifle any protest by reading them Bryan Appleyard's article so they know who thought that it was a vital part of their education to read that book.




Campaign for Raising Standards in English

London, SW17

17 March