The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, June 18, 2004

My sixth formers have finished this year's course and their AS exams, so we're starting the A2 course now, and running it as a sort of enrichment curriculum for the texts we'll study next year. It's lovely, utterly lovely, in these times of league tables, performance pay, inspection cycles and endless bloody raising achievement plans and performance reviews, to be teaching a text because it's beautiful, and because it says something noble and uplifting about the human spirit, instead of for an exam.

Discussing resistant readings of Sebastian Faullks' representations of France in 'Birdsong', several really good nuggets of ideas came out, and students began to really exercise their minds by building upon each other's theories. Kevin criticised Stephen Wraysford's character for juxtaposing anatomical beauty into scenes of horror and carnage. One of those lovely paradigm shifts when one student stands back and applies another whole layer to the text occurred, when Sarah put it to him that it was exactly what we were doing as readers: holidaying in the misery of the Battle of the Somme, and calling it art.

In my craven, administrator's heart, I knew we should be writing notes, cribbing symbols, robbing details from each other's words to steal and squirrel away into a revision file. As if it were escaping the crab clutches of expediency, the whisper came from inside my head: 'but it's not a core text, there is no exam.'
We put our notepads away, and continued talking, discovering, learning.