I have just finished watching a painful five minute discussion on Loose Women. To be fair, I do not often watch it so I cannot speak as to whether this is the usual kind of thing that is discussed, but it was the topic that encouraged me not to change channels as I usually would have: the new OCR exam board proposition to expand A Level English Language and Literature curriculum by including texts such as ” Russell Brand’s views on drugs and Caitlin Moran’s Twitter feed” and “BBC Newsnight interview with rapper Dizzee Rascal and the work of former Guardian columnist the Secret Footballer.” (Source: English A-level with Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal on reading list under fire, The Guardian, 6th May 2014)
The panel asked to contribute to the discussion: Janet Street Porter, Lily Allen, Myleene Klass and that one who used to be in a girl band before I was born. The response? Complete and utter crap.
Janet Street Porter, who of all people should have something to say on prejudice against class and language, simply offered a lukewarm endorsement and said that if it ‘gets kids reading’ then great, as that is the real issue.
Lily Allen’s response was ‘this really isn’t my topic – hahahahaha’ followed a pathetic disregard for her own power as a singer songwriter who has built a career on the power of language and message put to music.
Coleen Nolan’s response? To bring the discussion round to Shakespeare and to comment on how when she was at school it was just as boring as it is today, therefore anything that helps kids read has her vote.
Thank goodness for Myleene Klass, the only one who actually had something of substance to say about the matter…
Does the panel’s responses reflect those of the numerous fellow ladies at home watching this painful exchange, many of whom have children who study English Language and Literature? I decided to look at the social media comments put forward by the women of the British public. Just a few of the 45 comments received at time of writing:
I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE EMBARRASSED TO HAVE A VAGINA.
Here are three things that I have to say on the matter:
1) No-one is saying ditch Shakespeare or the Classics. Study them AS WELL.
What OCR is proposing is a diversification of the texts that learners are exposed to whilst studying English Language and Literature. Interviews given by contemporary figures – and yes, rappers – and Twitter feeds have a rich and complex use of the English Language that has value to add to the understanding of how contemporary culture communicates, arguably as much as the Classic literature on which of our language and cultural identity is founded.
2) Studying English is so much more than just studying literature – that is why your children are studying English Language AND Literature.
When I look back at my time studying English at school, it wasn’t Shakespeare or the Classics that I was exposed to that comes to mind. It was the contemporary poetry, the study of newspapers and articles, and the history of the English Language, including texts written by contemporary figures such as Janet Street Porter herself, that I remember.
As for the educational value of a Twitter feed? As Barbara Bleiman, co-director of the English and Media Centre said, “A Twitter feed is a hybrid that has features of written language and features of spoken language, so it’s particularly interesting to study something like Twitter or a blog or online communication because it sharpens the questions of what distinguishes speech and writing.”
3) Studying this kind of course would NOT ruin students’ chances of getting in to a ‘good’ university, as some tw*t at the DfE has suggested.
That is simply class-related prejudice that is sadly still rife amongst those dictating the way that our (failing) education system should be run. In fact, studying this kind of a curriculum could broaden students’ understanding of English Language and Literature and, in fact, could encourage a new and exciting perspective in the field of linguistics, a university level subject.
Furthermore, we are not just educating students for higher education. Being able to critically analyse language, especially language used by people of influence: politicians, celebrities, the media, etc., is a key life skill that we all need, and is a skill that I wish some of the women whose comments I read on Facebook had, if only for a more interesting read…yawn.