Home thoughts from abroad
Cripes, no sooner had I said that my Mum, when she taught me at primary school, made us learn the first first verse of Robert Browning's "Home Thoughts from Abroad" (Browning above) than the government decides it should be a set text for the new British Citizenship test -- along with God Save the Queen (verse one... God save us from going to verse two).
Or so at least it has been reported this weekend. We are still waiting for the final syllabus.
For would-be citizens, out go questions about how to claim benefits, and in comes a test of British history and literature and poetry.
Now, when Bernard Crick was helping devise the original citizenship test, he argued strongly against quizzing applicants against a range of knowledge that 80% of natural born Brits would not have. And "Home Thoughts from Abroad" must be a case in point.
I happen to have a soft spot for this particular set of verses, having been able to recite its first stanza for the last 52 years. But would I really want it used as a test of British competence for an in-coming Indian medic or Australian plumber (to name but two).
Here is my well loved, sentimental verse one:
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
For a start the punctuation would defeat most Brits with an A* in English literature (line 4 would be the killer). And how many homeborn citizens would be able to explain what "brushwood sheaf" or "elm-tree bole" are? (In fact I think that I would struggle with "brushwood sheaf", though I like the sound.)
None of this means that I think that this poem should be off the curriculum; in fact it's precisely this sort of stuff that the English curriculum should be working towards. But as I said before this wouldn't be my first choice to introduce to five year olds in the inner city, and the idea that it should become a make or break test for citizenship.. well, God help us. (How many members of the cabinet could tell us what an "elm-tree bole" was...?).
Other news. People have been really kindly asking about that French lecture. It went as well as I could have hoped. You can now read the text on-line. Let me know what you think.