Teaching and Storytelling
Philip Pullman's Isis Lecture (link updated) takes a fascinating look at the "low-level dread" that enfeebles education. "So, first of all, " he begins, "I'm going right in to the glowing radioactive core at the heart of the engine that drives the whole thing: the National Curriculum and the SATs."
"Then there is the Reading Journal, which children have to keep. Among other things, they have to:
- List the words and phrases used to create an atmosphere
- Write a fifty word summary of a whole plot
- Pick a descriptive word from the text and, using a thesaurus, write down five synonyms and antonyms for that word
"And so on. What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it's "slaves' work, unredeemed."