At the risk of sounding pretentious or 'elitist' as the education dumbers-down might say, I always in my teaching career had as my guideline the Rev Sydney Smith's exhortation, "live always in the best company when you read".
When, thanks to junk-full GCSE and A-level syllabuses, it became impossible to do this, I gave up teaching.
Think back to when you were young: I?d almost take bets on the fact that when people asked you what was your favourite book you?d choose something you read at school, because you?d studied it in-depth and knew it well.
This doesn?t seem to be so now. Teachers no longer seem to choose for their pupils well-written books with something to say for each age and ability group in school.
Texts are more likely to be chosen now on the basis of political correctness to support some ?aim?.
Thus, Steinbeck?s Of Mice and Men is not chosen because it is well written and has something to say (which it is and has) but chiefly because the main character is mentally handicapped and thus the book is a good jumping-off point for endless class discussion on mental handicap, while the text stays, unstudied, on the desk.
Books are often chosen for the sole reason that they are about children (as if children can relate to nothing else), or because they deal with subjects that teachers (probably wrongly) feel that children are longing to know about.
Thus we get the turgid Z for Zachariah because not only is it about a girl but also about the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
Poetry is chosen according to the prejudices of the examining boards, to whom Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy represent the pinnacles of the poets art and are set virtually every year, along with a politically-correct selection of barely intelligible (and often low grade) ?ethnic verse? (to ?introduce children to other cultures? and, incidentally, put them off poetry for life).
Sometimes texts are not studied for their own intrinsic literary merit, but simply as ?stimulus material?, which allows no set work on the text itself to be done at all.
Thus, we have George Orwell?s masterpiece Animal Farm, with all it has to say about human nature and the nature of totalitarianism read only so children can write an essay entitled ?Pupilism?, imagining children taking over the school, with all the predictable twaddle that such a subject is bound to elicit from inexperienced youngsters.
Reading Macbeth produces an assignment where a group of pupils can write their own murder play, because there are murders in Macbeth.
Similarly, at A level the dumbing-down process had led to Diary of a Nobody and The Diary of Adrian Mole being set for AS level. Both books are good fun for 13-year-olds but are a sick joke at A level.
Similarly, Shakespeare has been made compulsory at A level, but the examiners get round this by setting the simple comedies, Midsummer Night?s Dream orTwelfth Night, which used to be set in the first three years of secondary school.
Should someone actually set one of the great tragedies for A-level students to get their teeth into, the questions can be dumb: ?Who do you think loves the other more, Anthony or Cleopatra? anti-intellectual pap that enables a teacher to ?teach? a text merely by allowing the students to watch the video of the play, then discuss it in groups in class, even if they haven?t actually been able to follow it from the video alone - none of the painstaking analysis and stretching of the students? brain-power that once was thought necessary.
No wonder students are bored with school, underestimated and uninspired as they so often are.
?What will they have to look back on by way of favourite literature when they leave school?