What the Dickens?! Great Expectations or Hard Times?

6 Feb

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has said that "Every child ought to read a Dickens novel by the age of 11" while John Bangs, visiting professor at London University’s Institute of Education, commented:

"Dickens is fantastic and to introduce children to him at an appropriate age is a really good idea. The trouble with Mr Gibb is he thinks everyone in the class should read Dickens and this is the kind of top-down, tunnel-visioned approach we could do without."

However, in an interview with the Press Association, Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin, said, touching on a number of themes covered by this Blog, that, while the author's works depicting an unfair society were still, "amazingly relevant", "today’s children" were now unable to appreciate this because they "have very short attention-spans because they are being reared on dreadful TV programmes:

“Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”

“You only have to look around our society and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant the great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt MPs, how the country is run by old Etonians, you name it, he said it.”

We certainly have Great Expectations of our young people and what could be more relevant than the opening of the appropriately-titled Hard Times, with Mr Gibb or Mr Gove, or even Mr Twigg taking the place of Mr Gradgrind?:

"’NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'"

Our current situation is neatly summed up the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

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2 Responses to “What the Dickens?! Great Expectations or Hard Times?”

  1. Richard Fraser 07. Feb, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Re speech by Nick Gibb on Dickens and literacy [www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00203219/greatexpectations]:

    "We've reviewed the Qualified Teacher Status standards so it is now a requirement that teachers of early reading should demonstrate a clear understanding of the theory and teaching of systematic synthetic phonics."

    But teachers in free schools not required to have QTS: http://blog.voicetheunion.org.uk/?p=1522

    "From this summer, the new Year 1 phonics screening check will support teachers to confirm whether individual pupils have grasped fundamental phonics decoding skills, and identify which children may need extra help."

    Blog posts on phonics and test: http://blog.voicetheunion.org.uk/?tag=phonics

    "'NOW, what I want is, Phonics. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Phonics. Phonics alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Phonics: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I test these children. Stick to Phonics, sir!'"

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  1. Teaching Dickens is all a question of timing | Teaching English - 07. Feb, 2012

    [...] Gibb’s insistence that “Every child should read a Dickens novel by the age of 11” could very well have exactly that [...]

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