Novelist David Toscana is talking here about his own country of Mexico, but I would say that his words could be applied to my own, or any other, country.

“When my daughter was 15, her literature teacher banished all fiction from her classroom. “We’re going to read history and biology textbooks,” she said, “because that way you’ll read and learn at the same time.” In our schools, children are being taught what is easy to teach rather than what they need to learn. It is for this reason that in Mexico — and many other countries — the humanities have been pushed aside.

“We have turned schools into factories that churn out employees. With no intellectual challenges, students can advance from one level to the next as long as they attend class and surrender to their teachers. In this light it is natural that in secondary school we are training chauffeurs, waiters and dishwashers.

“This is not just about better funding. Mexico spends more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product on education — about the same percentage as the United States. And it’s not about pedagogical theories and new techniques that look for shortcuts. The educational machine does not need fine-tuning; it needs a complete change of direction. It needs to make students read, read and read”.

Read the whole essay here.

0 Responses

  1. there are so many responses going through my head right now, I'll just fire off one right now…

    Define literature. Is it Shakespeare (for you anglosaxons), Voltaire (for the frogs), Claus or Reve (if you speak dutch)??? I can follow that teacher's train of thoughts. Reading a piece of literature, often set in a society they cannot relate to is not going to enthuse modern day youth. Give them a well written book about a period in history they do not live in themselves could be way more interesting.

    I would be happy as long as they read and this leads to a good use of their language. Something that is rapidly going down the drain. When I went on a school trip to a newspaper (many years ago), we saw the original texts that were corrected by school teachers (as a second job). Now, journalists rely on their word processors and you'll find sentences

    You'll find sentences that end just about anywhere, sentences missing verbs, etc etc… things like that seem to leap out of the newspaper at me because I (have) read a lot and it immediately strikes me as "something's wrong"

    Why read Hamlet, (it's not even originally an english piece of literature, it has to be read in the original klingon after all 🙂 ) let them read Winston Churchill's WW2 diaries…

    As long as they read, and the reading fascinates them enough to do it again

  2. "With no intellectual challenges…"

    While I do favour a student facing a broad range of challenges, I find it hard to equate reading a biology textbook with having "no intellectual challenges."

  3. I read the original in the Times and was appalled.
    Read. Read SOMETHING! There will never be a movie of Plato's "Republic", Marx's "Das Kapital", or the Apocalypse of John. (Not a good movie anyway.)

  4. One can argue about what constitutes literature, but if I were a parent and had a child taking a literature class, I would not want to hear that the teacher was throwing out all literature and substituting books from other subjects. The reason for having classes in literature is that students be given the opportunity to read and learn about more than spare facts–to see examples of imagination and creativity and the range of human emotion and relationship. I love history, but I want history to be taught in history class, and literature (whether it's Aristophanes or Shakespeare or Eliot or Saro-Wiwa) to be taught in literature classes.