Sunday, 7 December 2008

What goes on?

A friend recently put me onto Mark Steel. I enjoyed his new book, What's going on, very much; I was even getting to meetings a few minutes early so I could strengthen myself with a few pages. I like his belief that learning and education should feel unexpected and amusing, and that everyone would get excited by ideas if only the teaching about them wasn't so dull.

A while ago, I was looking through a document put together by fine, sharp minds. I traced what it said about learning English over many years of a child's life, and I asked myself whether I could imagine a novelist, say, or a poet, or a songwriter or a standup comedian emerging from this carefully worded account of experiences and skills? Or would creativity with words have to come despite the education system? I asked a few other people the same question. No-one had anything but the same doubt.

Everyone doubts. The people who run things in and for schools, and universities etc are clever, charming, good company. They don't tell you to get lost, or that you are semi-detached from reality if you think writing books or poems or songs or jokes matters a jot. But nothing much changes, and I was left thinking that people like me either shouldn't get involved in the first place, or should get very cross (which myself I don't do very well, without being ridiculous and seeming silly, arrogant, and impolite). Steel reports similar experiences, but they seem to have been (or sound) funnier.

I could worry that we will see a whole generation of children who can produce a good report for the board, sort out an enquiry in a call-centre, or do a decent pitch to the Dragon's Den - but who can't create with words. But I don't think that will happen. People resist the education system well enough, and always have done.

It's not the lack of creativity that depresses me, it's the hours of boredom children will live with in an increasingly perfected and efficient system of education. No wonder it's been reported that English children have the skills to be some of the best readers in the world, if only they would pick up a book more often.