I love going into schools and getting kids to perform their own poems. Sometimes teachers will say “These children are very good” and my heart will sink a bit because I don’t want good children, I want ones who would rather eat their own shoes than write a poem and then suddenly discover the joy of speaking their own words out loud. Quiet, loud, well behaved or bouncing off the walls, the children are never a problem. But sometimes the teachers do my head in. Not the ones who join in the workshop with the children and nick your ideas and adapt them for their own lessons in future. But the ones who sit at the back catching up with marking and carry a vague resentment that someone has disrupted their routine and made the kids a bit hyper. Nowadays I try only go into schools if I know I’m going to meet the former type, because I find it harder to hold in my annoyance at the ones who have less life than the caretaker’s mop.
So, a bit of me agreed with Horrible Histories author Terry Deary saying in the Journal this week that he doesn’t want children to be forced to read his books in schools. But then my sympathy rapidly evaporated and I thought he sounded like a bit of a knob once I read “I’ve never set foot in a school to give a talk..I detest schools with a passion”. He lives in County Durham and within a few miles of where he lives there are hundreds of schools and thousands of kids whose lives he could change just by showing them that a multi million bestselling author whose books they love, comes from where they come from. Raising aspirations is one of the biggest challenges for schools in the North East and he could make a massive impact if he chose to.
Personally, if I was a school pupil I’d be a heck of a lot more excited by a man who writes about how Romans went to the loo than a girl poet who does rhyming on a radio station I’ve never heard of. Once he’d got past the questions like “How much do you earn?” and “What famous people have you met?”, he’d find bright, lively, curious kids who would remember his visit for the rest of their lives.
Presumably since he was busy promoting his books, he didn’t have time to notice the ground-breaking work being done in North East schools by Creative Partnerships (now got rid of by the Coalition). For several years between 2003-2010, amazing things were happening in our region’s schools. Landscape artists worked with kids to design new playgrounds, professional filmmakers turned entire schools into TV studios, books were published, shows put on, and all of it done in the spirit of children finding things out for themselves, not just being spoonfed by teachers.
Several of the projects I was involved in tried to get boys involved in writing and reading since it can be harder to engage them. According to Terry Deary “It’s a well-known fact that boys don’t like to read fiction, so why teach fiction when they like facts?”. Surely then, calling for Horrible Histories to be banned from classrooms is allowing his dislike of schools to override the opportunity for kids to benefit from his funny, clever books? Anyway there are many wonderful novels with a strong appeal for boys- from David Walliams’ “Mr Stink” to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider spy series and David Almond’s powerful North East stories like Skellig. Rather than making sweeping generalisations, many teachers are, as they always have been, eager for new ways to get their students excited by words.
Shame on you Terry Deary for sitting in the middle of all this amazing creative work in the North East and not getting involved. Heard the one about the author who sat counting his cash while a few miles down the road kids were sitting desperate to be inspired? That’s a truly horrible history.