Reading. His reading policy. The Children’s Laureate wants to get “more children reading as widely as possible”. The Gove seems keener on getting fewer reading as narrowly as possible. The Children’s Laureate wants tots reading almost anything, including comics, graphic novels, vampire fiction. “Low” culture. Nod’s not keen. He favours a fierce dose of the received canon, popular in the 1950s – Dead White Blokes, “High” culture.
He would prefer his daughter to read George Eliot’s Middlemarch rather than Stephanie Myer’s Twilight. Yikes! How old is she? He would probably prefer my Dave Mania to read Proust rather than wrestle with Harry Redknapp’s match day ruminations. I’d prefer Dave to read – anything. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Malorie thinks so. She finds Gove’s approach too prescriptive and “snobbish”. She likes comics and once took one to the classroom. “The teacher tore it up.” Why? Too vulgar. Too “low”? I had similar experiences. My old Latin teacher confiscated my Silver Surfer. He preferred me to endure the mind-shredding tedium of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. My music teacher nicked my copy of Gene Vincent’s fabulously vulgar Be Bop Alula. He wanted me to prefer Bartok. Have you heard Bartok? Jesus. Neither pedant seemed to get that education might start with simple, often secret, pleasures.
My reading started with The Beano and developed to Middlemarch, probably (yes Michael!) the greatest English novel – for adults. You can’t inflict 19th Century novels on younger classes. Gove damns this as the “soft bigotry of low expectation”, a fancy phrase and just nonsense.
I was compelled to “do” Oliver Twist with low stream 9th year classes. The opening sentence is 225 words long and a migraine of conditionals, qualifying clauses and sophisticated diction. This vertiginous rhetoric will floor anyone under Level 4 – and put lots of tots off Dickens for life. I thought we were done with this High/Low culture debate. We are dealing with the developmental here. Teenage Gothic may lead to Frankenstein. Minnie the Minx may even lead to Shakespeare’s Cleopatra.
I went to London’s Southbank. It was knee-deep in high culture. I opted for the very lowest – “Beanoland”, an exhibition celebrating the recently deceased comic. What fun! You could even fire plastic missiles at a blackboard. “Imagine this is your teacher’s bum!” it said. Or Noddy’s.