Up Front by Emma Hart


A Word From the Ministry for Learning People Things

The markers of last year's English exams said choice of text film, novel, play, poem or short story is critical to students' success, but many teachers are making poor choices. Level 1 markers said they were concerned that lots of poems and short stories studied were "of a disturbing or brutal nature".

Films that produced good marks included The Piano, Billy Elliot and Gallipoli, while Shakespeare and classics such as Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies produced good answers in the novel exams.

More modern books such as Tomorrow When the War Began and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, also gave good scope but Level 2 students struggled to get top marks studying blockbuster movies Bend It Like Beckham and The Matrix trilogy.

I mean, honestly, what are these teachers thinking, choosing these texts? This isn't a Robin Williams movie you know, it's not about being cool and hip and in with the kids. It’s about giving them the tools they need to pass exams.

I blame this new crop of trendy liberal young teachers. Everyone knows art students should take a few years between finishing university and starting teaching – time for their blood alcohol levels to drop and the disillusionment to set in. Next thing you know they'll be letting the kids choose their own texts to write on and wittering about 'engagement' and 'developing a love of reading'. How's that going to benefit them in the real world? Can you imagine trying to get a raise on the basis of your love of reading? Fastest way to the Artists' Dole if you ask me.

And nobody thinks about the markers, do they? A quarter of all kids wrote on the Shawshank Redemption. I had to watch it. The Shawshank Redemption! How can that possibly be suitable? It's only fourteen years old, and it's got Morgan bloody Freeman in it. What's next, Nurse Betty?

Except it wouldn’t be, would it, because that's not horrible enough. No, you want to 'engage' these kids, we'd better show them Se7en. This taste for dark, nasty, violent texts is just disturbing, and it has to be discouraged. We need a return to the good old days of set texts when the Ministry for Enabling Kids to Pass Exams got to choose their books for them. Good, wholesome, uplifting books like The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies and Brave New World.

Forget movies, that's like giving the lazy little bastards credit for watching television. Plays were good enough for us. Send them back to the Bard. But the original texts, not that Baz Luhrman depravity. Quite how he managed to turn Romeo and Juliet into something full of sex and violence is beyond me.

These kids think they can write essays on anything now. Just the other day I was marking a paper where a student was talking about the intersection of racism, sexism and homophobia, the prejudices of immigrant communities, and a conclusion where a young girl defers a sexual relationship with an older man in order to further her career, and it turned out she was talking about Bend it Like Beckham. Ridiculous. If she wanted to blather on about pop culture like it actually matters she should wait until university like everybody else.

Well, we've done what we can to stop the rot. We've put together a couple of lists: texts that enable students to give successful answers, and text that lead to less successful answers. We all know, after all, that it's the quality of the texts that matters, not the ability of the students. So just remember, kids, if your teacher says you can write on The Matrix Trilogy, they’re not cool. They hate you and they want you to fail.

Consider yourself warned.

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