The Art of Teaching Secondary English: Innovative and Creative Approaches

By David Stevens; Nicholas McGuinn | Go to book overview

3

Romantic words and worlds
'Poetry's the speech of kings'. You're one of those
Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose.

(Tony Harrison, Them [and Uz])

Is it possible to take a Romantic perspective on twenty-first century literacy teaching? I want to begin my response to the challenges posed by Stevens in Chapters 1 and 2 with a brief story. Not long ago, I was trying to teach Tennyson's poem Mariana to a class of fifteen-year-olds in a northern comprehensive school. The pupils were members of a lower-set GCSE English Literature group. I remember one particular boy (I'll call him Alan) who, though clearly intelligent and articulate, made it vociferously clear that he had no desire to engage with the delights of nineteenth-century poetry. Late one Friday afternoon, when we were all tired and waiting for the bell to release us, Alan surprised and exasperated me by taking a momentary break from his quietly sustained disruption to observe that the final word of Tennyson's famous line The blue fly sung in the pane was a pun which symbolised the silent, claustrophobic suffering of the poem's heroine. When the lesson was over, I asked him - in the way that teachers do - why, since he was clearly a sensitive and perceptive reader of poetry, he was not prepared to make that kind of contribution all the time. Alan replied that he was just counting the days till he could leave school and take up his uncle's offer of a job on a building-site. The acquisition of an examination certificate in English Literature was of no interest to him at all.

Looking back at that incident, I can see how my response to Alan was shaped by key Romantic principles which, in the mid years of the twentieth century, vitally informed the teaching of English in general and literacy in particular. Why had I chosen to teach such a text - seemingly so unsuitable in terms of its age, elusiveness and complexity - to these pupils? The answer is because I believed in the validity of what Brian Cox has described as the cultural heritage model of English, one which 'emphasises

-51-

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The Art of Teaching Secondary English: Innovative and Creative Approaches
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Introduction vii
  • 1 - The Arts of English Teaching 1
  • 2 - Romantically Linked 29
  • 3 - Romantic Words and Worlds 51
  • 4 - The Challenge of 'Instrumental Rationality' 73
  • 5 - Taking the Mind to Other Things 95
  • 6 - Romantic Culture and the Intercultural Imperative 117
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 143
  • Index 151
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