From Tots to Teens, StarMag
FIRST Jacqueline Wilson's book, My Sister Jodie, is criticised because it contains a word deemed unsuitable for children (this leads to Wilson deciding to replace the word). Then a poem is removed from the GCSE curriculum because it might encourage those studying for the exam to commit acts of violence. The mind boggles. I keep thinking it's some sort of joke. How could people be so dense as to miss the point being made by Wilson and, now, the poet.
The poem that GCSE candidates will no longer be reading is Carol Ann Duffy's Education for Leisure. Written in the first person, it describes a day in the life of a restless and destructive youth. The youth describes how he/she squashes a fly and flushes a goldfish down the toilet. It ends with the youth grabbing a bread-knife and going for a walk. No, it doesn't actually describe the youth stabbing anyone. Nor does it doesn't contain a refrain that goes, "Go out and kill! Go out and kill, kill, kill! KILL!!!"
However, in the The Guardian, exams invigilator, Pat Schofield, says, "I think it (the poem) is absolutely horrendous - what sort of message is that to give to kids who are reading it as part of their GCSE syllabus?"
Schofield was one of three exam officers who complained about the poem. I wonder if other complaints are going to start pouring in, about the violence in Shakespeare's plays, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, and other texts in the GCSE syllabus. I mean, just think about it for a second. These are stories - thought-provoking, question-raising serious stories. They are not instruction manuals. Kids are supposed to read and discuss them and the issues they raise. These books, plays and poems (like all well-written work) are supposed to provoke debate, create awareness, elicit response, force one to think.
The examination board's decision seems to suggest that children simply read, register words and then act on them - like automatons fed with a set of commands! Also in The Guardian, it stressed that "schools were not being urged to pulp the anthology: 'This is not about destroying books. They are allowed to continue teaching the poem, if they wish'". Students will simply not be examined on Education for Leisure. Oh, so the poem is "safe" so long as kids don't think too hard about what it? God forbid that they might actually consider its meaning and (horror!) get Duffy's point!
The poet has responded by writing a poem called Mrs Schofield's GCSE (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/06/poetry.gcses). It succeeds in reminding, gently and subtly (probably too subtly though), all who need reminding that a syllabus staple like Shakespeare also wrote about (but didn't condone) violence, and about the subtle power of poetry and its ability to reveal, with simplicity, clarity, beauty and brevity, the deepest secrets of the heart and the most profound workings of the mind.
Schofield told The Guardian that she thinks the poem is "a bit weird. But having read her (Duffy's) other poems I found they were all a little bit weird." Somehow, I'm not surprised.