Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic...

Once again, it’s back to school. I’m going to take this opportunity to sound off about the English curriculum in our schools. Bear in mind my experience is with the York Region School Board in Ontario; however, my guess is the curriculum in different boards is virtually the same.

The truth is, it’s not a bad curriculum and I guess others think so, because since I was a kid (won’t tell you how many years ago that was) it’s barely changed. Everyday there’s a new piece of news we wrap are heads around AND there’s a new outstanding piece of literature published. So why are our children getting limited exposure to this great new literature. Yes, there is a spattering of it in the curriculum, but the lions share is still what it was thirty years ago: multitudes of classics such as Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, and, of course, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare and Shakespeare (I think you get the picture).

I’m not suggesting the classics and Shakespeare are not timeless pieces of work that deserve meticulous attention in the education system. The problem is they are beaten to death at the expense of other great, newer works. Is it really necessary to have our high school kids study Shakespeare every single year? Surely, there are other great playwrights. I did a google search of great playwrights of the twentieth century and hit on more names than I can mention here. One hundred years from now will their work be forgotten? Perhaps studying just one of them in the curriculum might be an idea.

My daughter is in grade 12 and has never once had the opportunity to read and report on a book completely of her choosing. There is some freedom in selecting a book, based on teacher’s guidelines. For example she currently had to select a book which had been turned into a movie…not bad. My feeling is there should be a little more room for freedom of choice in what the kids read, barring the selection of trashy books. What’s wrong with our children selecting an awarding winning novel that was penned in the last decade? Again…will this work go forgotten? The bottom line is we want our kids to grow up to be readers and to do that they have to love what they’re reading.

My final beef has to do with the creative writing component of the curriculum, or lack thereof. In four years of high school, my daughter’s written two short stories. No wonder so many university students have poor grammar. But gosh-darn, I bet they can recite Shakespeare!

…just my humble opinion…

Joanne Elder,

Author of SPECTRA, MuseItUp Publishing


Anonymous said...

When I decided to change careers about ten years ago, I went back to college. My major was Environmental Science. When it came time to write reports/papers as a team, I was utterly stunned at the inability of the younger students to write.

In a physical science concentration, I didn't expect my classmates to be able to write beautiful prose. But I was stunned at their ignorance of sentence construction, grammar and punctuation. They couldn't write a coherent paragraph, even if they had been able to to keep verb tense consistent.

Joanne Elder said...

My sister-in-law is a prof at University of Toronto and is appalled at the writing skills of her students. They have a warped set of priorities in today's high school English programs.