Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Teachers and Librarians favourite Children's Books" - Should schools ditch The Mr Men for Jane Eyre?

A classic in every sense of the word, but should this replace The Mr Men for younger children?
As part of our #ReadItMD13 Theme Week we've been taking a look at recommendations for children's picture books from Teachers and Librarians - while in the wings a storm is brewing about precisely what schools should be letting our children read.

Without trawling through the entire speech recently made by Education Secretary Michael Gove, you only have to trickle through a few Twitter feeds to hear the voice of objection from Teachers (and librarians too) about Gove's Dickensian narrow-minded views on what reading material is suitable for schoolchildren.

Gove sounds like he hasn't actually read anything published for children in the last 30 years (or possibly longer). Singling out a fairly odd target (The utterly brilliant Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves), Gove has somehow bypassed a wealth of reading material that schools regularly use to good effect, singly ignored reading programmes such as Bookstart / Booktrust, and has an astonishing lack of familiarity with the real pattern of children's reading.

The comment "What would you rather come home and find your teenager reading? Middlemarch or Twilight" almost made me snort coffee out of my nose. In years to come, if I came home and found my daughter reading a book (whether a classic or something contemporary) I'd feel like both school and my wife and I had actually given her a good foundation in being interested enough in books to go off and read them independently of us. Had Gove taken the trouble to actually read a Twilight novel, or any of the stunning YA Fiction that children are soaking up, he might have been able to make a more effective and relevant point rather than completely and utterly failing to grasp what reading means to teens.

The other thing that jars constantly is his "Tiger Mother" line of thinking - that academic achievement cannot be reached and sustained in any other way than through testing or concentration on numeracy, literacy or science (I thoroughly agree with the sentiment that all tests achieve are to teach children how to pass tests). I also cannot understand Gove's seemingly dismissive stance on anything creative but it's not his view alone. At times you feel that our current Government sees anything related to the arts or creativity as an unnecessary expense and that sinking money into a Trident replacement or a wholly unpopular high speed rail link would be a better use of funds.

I'd welcome a debate on this. Though we're fairly green around the gills when it comes to the integration of books and reading in schools, we've certainly seen a great deal of evidence that suggests Gove is not only misguided and wrong, he's stunningly ignorant of what's actually going on with the very field he's charged with a high level of responsibility for.

Comments below are most welcome.