Should schools teach twittering?
There was much hand-wringing a few days ago about the idea that primary schools should give up teaching kids about the nineteenth century and should teach them about blogs, twittering and wiki instead.
The thing that bothered me most about this was not the elevation of twittering skills about (say) poetry, but the idea that central government would be requiring twittering (or whatever) of all schools in England. More imposition of a one size fits all model onto long suffering, and very diverse, teachers and pupils.
I can't see anything wrong, in itself, in teaching kids about all kinds of different uses of languages and styles and genres. In fact, I vividly remember when I was about 12 being required to practice writing telegrams in an English lesson at school (and telegrams were almost the 1960s equivalent of twitter, weren't they?).
The task set, I still recall, was to write a telegram to someone who had won a scholarship to Cambridge and ask them to confirm that they would be taking it up (an exercise that was also presumably one of the drip, drip ways in which our academic aspirations were raised). My own effort (of which I'm even now quite proud) was: "WON SCHOLARSHIP CAMBRIDGE WIRE IF ACCEPTING" (I thought it was clear enough without "STOP" between "CAMBRIDGE" and "WIRE".
Not a bad exercise in concision. And nor would twittering be, I suspect.
As it happens, you will be pleased, surprised or utterly horrified to learn that A Don's Life itself has already featured in one area of the nation's pedagogy. One of my friends has just published a book (World and Time: Teaching Literature in Context) which, among other things, aims to help teachers with ways of teaching literary analysis in all kinds of different genres. There's all sorts of stuff in it: Wordsworth, Eliot, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, Julian Barnes and . . . well . . .of all unlikely things . . . me. To be precise, there's an old blog posting called "Self-promotion?".
The other writers (those that are still with us, that is) may be well used to people dissecting their poetry and prose, but I have never seen anyone having a go at mine before. I expected to think that they had got it all wrong, or that they pointed to clever little stylistic features that were entirely unintentional. But not a bit of it. The book put its finger instantly on the chummy yet crafted familiar tone of the blog (the "geddit" and the "Freddy Raphael"), the insistent addresses direct to the reader ("Don't worry") and the (trying hard to be) casual repetitions (I started the week with Start the Week). It also rightly picked me up on some inelegant repetitions of the not very pretty word "pretty".
And at the end of the section there were some topics and questions to be tried on the pupils: "Can a blog really claim to be taken seriously as a literary text?" or "Do we read blogs on-screen differently from the way we read essays on a page?"
I think I'm really quite happy at a few kids dipping into my blog and wondering about writing and literature in the electronic age (well I would be quite happy, wouldn't I?). But the idea that the whole of the school population should be forced to hone their literary skills on A Don's LIfe -- even I think that's a nightmare vision of pedagogy.