Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Save our Libraries no4: or please engage brain before making a statement.

It's not really that I feel inclined to criticise everything that Michael Gove says, it's more that I feel that he has a need to engage his brain before going for the nearest soundbite. So, here is my rant, or measured argument, to the piece in The Telegraph today ( suggesting that children should read 50 books a year)
50 books a year. At an average of £6.99 that would cost £349.50 per child. As a way of ensuring a minimum spend on this can I suggest that the government spends our money on some kind of central warehousing for books where a child can go and select, say, four books, a months worth of reading, then when he/she has read them they could be returned so that other children could read them. These warehouses could be staffed by expert people who understand cataloguing and ordering books but also keep abreast of what is new in publishing, who get to know the 'borrowers' who can recommend books that might be interesting. We could call the warehouses libraries, and the gatekeepers could be librarians.
But I would also like to take issue with the idea of the reading challenge of 50 books. As a child I would have found this utterly daunting. I would have been lucky to manage 12, but I would have read them because I loved stories. I struggled to read, hated reading in class because I stumbled and fell over the simplest words, but I loved books. And when I read I was there, in the pages, lost, safe. I walked on the green grass of Wyoming, I rode on Aslan's back and I went hunting with the Antelope Singer. I could smell Australia in the pages of The Silver Brumby.
Again it would seem that a memeber of our government knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It is not how many books you read, but how you are engaged and tangled in books. A person can read 50 books and learn nothing while another can read 5 and learn so much. A poem can say as much as a novel of 1000 pages. It's not how many you read how engaged you can be with a story, not how fast, but maybe I say this because I am slow. And how are these children who are tested almost night and day and have coursework etc to do to find the time?
This statement, this argument by a member of our government is yet again further proof of the fact that he is not fit to govern, neither is he fit to shape policies that will affect our children's education.
Maybe now I manage 20 books a year, at a push 30 ( cheating, reading pictures books, shorter!) I still read painfully slowly.
One of the things I loved most at school, especialy before I had learned to unlock the code I use now as my fingers move over this board, was the half hour when all our class sat quietly while the teacher simply but surely read a whole book to us over a period of days. Sometimes we all had a copy to follow. Sometimes we just sat and listened. And when we did that pictures would dance in my head.


  1. Well said Jackie. It would do Michael Gove good to read this!

  2. I agree with all that... My eldest daughter (age 6) is a good reader and loves stories but she's expected to read one school reader book every day which is sometimes a bit of a push, as well as homework which is always a battle.
    Reading should be a joy, not a task and I think pushing targets too much at school will only take away that joy. Children should be allowed the opportunity to discover things at their own pace and have enough time to absorb and nurture a love that will last a lifetime.

    I remember our teacher reading The Hobbit to us in class and that exact same quiet, absorbed feeling of my memory retold with equisite skill by Mervyn Peake where Titus Groan daydreams in the sleepy afternoon classroom. I also rememeber fondly story time in the summer under the weeping willow in the playground when I was six.

    (Oh dear, sorry for going on a bit!)

  3. How right you are Jackie!Just what is it about politicians? We can only hope that they start their careers because they really do want to make a difference for the good, and it's not just a power trip. But I've yet to see evidence that any, other than the tiniest of tiny minorities really do improve the world one iota.

    You can see evidence of this particularly in the arts and education; funding slashed, libraries decimated, and kids becoming nothing more than lab rats for the next educational experiment!

    And it doesn't take any government long to find good reasons to send yet more young people off to die in yet another war.

    This government and its pronouncements are no worse, I suppose, than any other government and any other pronouncements, but the damage they can do is enormous.

  4. Well said Jackie, Gove is one of the bigger idiots in this dispicable government. Why he is still in post is quite beyond me.

    The minute reading is made into a task the joy of it is taken away!!.

    I have been an avid (and some might say addicted!) reader since I knew how to do it. I can be elsewhere in moments - this has in the past often resulted in bumping in small accidents, unable to stop reading for a minute during a gripping bit, I would walk along, book in hand...

    It looks like my boy is going the same way. He'd rather have a story, and chooses books over games most of the time. He doesn't have 'books' or 'reading' forced upon him - books are simply always around - he's been known to flick through mine quite happily, pointing at words and saying 'what's that?' as well as his own children's books.

    But my husband, who is as intelligent as I, and actually far, far better at maths and such ;o), reads at a much more leisurly pace, and hardly reads novels at all, blaming the trauma of studying 'Pride and Prejudice' for English O level for this.

  5. Well said, Jackie.
    I always had a problem as a child because I read so quickly (still do), I once got into a row at the library when I was staying with my grown-up sister as I wanted to change my books too quickly?! I only read last thing at night, in bed - otherwise I'd bankcrupt us buying new reading matter. As it is I re-read an awful lot.
    Without libraries, it won't only be children who suffer a lack of books.
    No-one ever made a child a reader by insisting they read 50 books a year, but no child will ever become a reader without access to books - and the choice to find the books that enthrall and involve tham.

  6. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! You have put this into words far better than I could.

  7. Fahrenheit 451 here we come. . .

  8. Hi Jackie
    Bravo. i am directing all my colleagues to your rant! I used Mr Goves comments in the interview for my own job I had to endure today to highlight how important it is for a school to have a librarain!

  9. Ah thanks Jayne. I hope you get your job that you have been doing so well for so many years!
    Did you hear the awful interview with Will Self today on Open Book on Radio 4. Talk about shooting your own argument in its own foot! I think he took an idiot pill before stepping up to the mike!
    ( So which bit did you quote?)

  10. Not a particular quote but a general discussion at the end when I asked why reader developement hadnt featured in the interview or job description. I was somewhat relieved to know that Leo ( The Boss) thought his comments as ill thought out as I did. Oh and also that he had no love of the man either!! Is that an omen. Interview was pretty rubbish as i was so so cross at having to do it!! You know me!

  11. brilliant! If you weren't an artist you'd make a wonderful education secretary Jackie!