An English teacher on her high horse: ‘Academic’ vs ‘Creative’ subjects.

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I re-read this article today and got very, very annoyed.  It’s about the government’s EBacc, about ‘academic’ and ‘creative’ subjects and about how a ‘rigorous’ education is more important than an artistic one.

To me it’s funny that English is considered one of the ‘hard’ subjects that makes for a ‘rigorous’ education, as opposed to one of the ‘creative’ subjects that the government doesn’t seem to value anywhere near as much. Obviously I think it’s a vital subject, but I think its importance lies in that it teaches us to think. I also think that it’s not necessarily ‘English’, the language, that’s important. In English lessons, in English speaking countries, we’re teaching three fundamentally important things, and only one of them is to do with the language specifically. Yes, we’re teaching communication in the English language, and that is necessary for both English speakers and those who want to be English speakers. In that sense, English is on a par with any other language, and it’s this element that the government seems to consider makes it ‘hard’ and therefore ‘worthy’.

The other aspects of the subject that make it so freaking wonderful though, are nothing to do with being able to recognise bias in journalism, or punctuate a sign, or write a letter to an employer.

0dac601965da5c8f440ae7c642eb81faThrough Literature we learn how other people think the world works, and we learn how to tell the world what we think about that. There is nothing more creative than exploring and analysing other people’s dreams and views, and showing your own to them. Literature is inextricably linked to ‘the creative subjects’, to Drama, to Art, to Music, and it is also linked to ‘the academic subjects’, to History, and even to Maths and Science, subjects which some people mistakenly think it is impossible to be simultaneously interested in if you are a ‘bookish’ sort of person. Reading, understanding, exploring and responding to a poem is not a ‘hard’ skill that children need to learn so they can get jobs as lawyers and accountants and doctors and all the other jobs that we aspire for our children to have. It is the very essence of creativity. It is a skill, for sure, that can help children get those jobs, but it is also a skill that can help children make sense of the world in which they live, can make them emotionally mature and secure people, and can give them the tools to make a difference where they want to, whether as lawyers or mothers or binmen.

quote-Boris-Pasternak-literature-is-the-art-of-discovering-something-137109_2It is saying, ‘why was Wordsworth ‘wandering’? Why wasn’t he striding purposefully? Why wasn’t he running? What was he thinking? Who was he with? Why? What was I thinking about the last time I took a walk? What is the point of exploring the field over there, or the world? What might I discover? What do I want to say about it? Why is it important to say whatever that is? Or why should I not say it at the moment?  What can I learn from other people who think the same thing, or the opposite thing, or a thing somewhere in the middle? What can we learn from each other?’

It is clear that these questions (and the hundreds of others we could ask) easily lend themselves to further exploration in other subjects-Arts, Sciences, Humanities…the world is multifaceted and so is a good education. What a waste of time and energy if a child who is a talented musician isn’t able to explore some of these ideas through writing harmonies or exploring how to convey the poem’s emotion on the piano, or a child who is interested in science and drama (yes! they coexist!) can’t be inspired to examine things like human psychology through devising, or the vital crossover between personal growth, scientific discovery and morality through plays like Copenhagenmg22730380.800-1_800

So yes, English is important, and indeed, in my biased view, it is one of the most important subjects we teach. But to split subjects into ‘academic’ and ‘creative’ and to assign more value to one group than to the other, is to completely miss the point.

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Half term shenanigans

So the iGCSE is done and dusted, the Shakespeare paper has been tackled this morning and pupils will be breathing a sigh of relief up and down the country… Not quite so for the GCSE lot, who have English Language still to go – cruelly placed as it is, just after half term.

How do you maintain that exam focus over a week of holiday?  Yes, of course, you stick to your revision timetable, and you try to remember to eat well, and, if you’re like me as a teenager, you lock yourself in your room for a few days at a time only to reveal yourself, mad-doctor-haired and more than a little smelly, desperate for a shower on about Wednesday afternoon.

crazy-professor-28436930The most important thing you can possibly do though, no matter where you are in your exams and no matter how many you still have to go, is to give yourself a day off.  A whole day. Preferably (and I know that in terms of your social life this is tantamount to suggesting you run through the school shouting the national anthem while wearing a bear costume) while turning your phone/laptop/brain-chip that connects you to your friends off.

I can hear people scoffing.  But you’ve just spent the last few weeks living, breathing and dreaming exams.  You’ve been in school every day or revising at home, you’ve sat in the same spot in the exam hall staring at the head of the same boy in front of you through hour upon hour of test and you’ve spent your break times and lunch times conferring with your friends about which bits were easy and which bits were hard, probably winding yourself and each other up about all the silly little mistakes you might have made but won’t know about for sure until results day.  You need to just…stop.  Have a day off. Spend it outdoors.  Spend it with your family but tell them they’re not allowed to mention the E or the R words.  (That’s ‘exam’ and ‘revision’ not ‘Emergency Room,’ though probably best to avoid a trip there too.)  Go to the seaside, engage in some mindless window shopping, play with your little brother, walk the dog, read a magazine, watch the news and remember the real world out there, go to the park, go swimming – do whatever it is that you used to do back in the days when you were ‘normal’ and not thinking about Geography Unit 2 when you woke up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night.

Have a day off.  Your books will be there tomorrow.  And when you’ve had a good, old-fashioned exhausting day of playing out, (which no one is ever too old for, by the way) sleep well, set your alarm for a decent time and get going on that revision.  It’ll be worth it.