View Full Version : Educational Apartheid

10-06-2011, 02:30 PM
I'm not sure whether this is the right place, or whether it should go in Aw Roundtable. Sorry....

I was watching The Wright Stuff (a UK discussion show) and it was running the question:

Is Dickens too out of fashion for schools? (or something similar to that question)

They brought up an interesting side point that really intrigued me, and it concerns how Dickens (and the likes) is taught in private/public school settings:

Teens over here (England) sit their exams at the age of sixteen (GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education).

Nothing unusual there, however...

Kids in public schools aren't given the whole novel to read: just an extract, maybe two to compare/contrast. Most public schools have this 'extract' approach, and it led to the question: so what about private schools? Do they get the whole novel to read? Why would there be a class division on the length of work being taught?

Maybe Government reasoning is the old: public-taught side of society have a low attention span? If so, are government encouraging a 'hunt for the best bits' and skip the rest? Does it discourage a love of books overall? How can a system that screams book-bias at that level then scream even louder: teens don't read novels anymore. Are we going back to Dicken's time where education, or lack of, is socially tailored?

I know I was given the whole novel to read. I was public taught, but this was many, many years ago. Extractivitus seems to have cropped up within the last ten years or so....

I was wondering what your thoughts are on this. Is literature taught differently over in America? Do you get the whole novel? What do you think the implications are for reading/writing in general?

10-06-2011, 03:49 PM
Public and Private schools are the same thing... do you mean public and state schools?

In my experience of GCSE English, both being taught it and teaching it as a supply teacher, they do get the full text of all books they study (and these are usually from an approved government list that includes Shakespeare and Dickens as well as more modern classics). These are the ones that they have to write essays on and understand fully for assignments and essays.

These books are often read aloud in class as a group - possibly the most tedious part of English for anyone who can read silently at a far faster pace than the slowest reader... but they can also be given for private reading at home.

Extracts are usually used to highlight important points or methods (such as how to deconstruct a passage or comparing two descriptions from two different books) as part of normal teaching throughout the year. Usually given as a worksheet with the extract followed by some questions or discussion pointers for group work.

So both methods are often used by state schools for entirely different purposes.

10-06-2011, 04:08 PM
Lol, sorry, yes. State and public. Getting knickers twsited...

Have you taught in both settings, areteus? Do you read the full text in school?

10-06-2011, 04:49 PM
I've not taught in Public schools no, just state schools and my main subject is science so I have only done a little English. I have, however, observed lessons and conducted them in which the full text is read. Usually it is only 2 or 3 books a term that are read in full - usually it is one novel, one play and a certain amount of poetry - and there are essays on those which need to be marked and externally assessed and exams with questions that may include an extract but also require you to have read the whole thing to fully understand them.

Most syllabi seem to follow the pattern of taking a book through the year and studying elements of it as you go. So, for example, reading the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities and then discussing what makes 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' a good opening sentence and maybe practising writing opening sentences or looking at extracts of other examples. Later lessons would move onto chapter 2 and study that, gaining relevent discussion points from the reading and so on.

It is, of course, possible that some schools are moving away from this. However, this is not what I have seen so far.

10-07-2011, 02:53 AM
Regarding the US, I took secondary school English at what I think was a fairly typical small town midwestern American high school in the mid-1960s. At that time and in that place about two-thirds of students expected to go on to college. English was required of everybody every year. But there was "tracking," in that those bound for college had a tougher curriculum.

It included grammar, composition, and several standard works of literature. As I recall, these included several standard Shakespeare plays, Great Expectations, and a smattering of Milton. I don't remember the American works, except The Great Gatsby. Much of the literature was in the form of extracts of longer works (e.g. Moby Dick) or noted short stories, like Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." The textbook for the class had a lot of such short bits of this and that. So that sounds a lot like what you are talking about as the current curriculum in the UK.

These days I think things are quite a bit different. My daughter (a perpetual graduate student and collector of degrees) is now in a Ph.D. program in English literature at a reasonably prestigious university in the Midwest. As part of that she teaches sections of beginning college students English literature. She tells me they know virtually nothing about literature at all. She's probably biased, since she went to a very fancy-pants college (one of the Seven Sisters) in the East.

Of course what also has changed is that relatively few college students now major in one of the humanities -- I've seen figures as low as 10% across the US. Forty years ago it was much, much higher. The economy and the job market has spoken on that.

10-07-2011, 10:05 AM
Thanks, guys.

My 18yr old took his GCSE's two years ago and he said he never studied novel-length work, his girlfriend focused more on poetry (5 pieces where one would be focused on in the exam).

But perhaps these talk show hosts hadn't stepped foot in a classroom for a while. I know I was given the full texts, bit I've known who've re-taken GCSE level and just been given extracts.

Maybe it is staggered with how its taught. hmmmm.

10-09-2011, 09:54 PM
I took my GCSE's a few years ago and I remember a combination of full novels/ plays and extracts. For example, we read and worked on the whole of Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls and Othello (the first two were exam texts, if I remember rightly) but only extracts and the film version of Frankenstein (coursework text). I'm pretty sure we also worked on the whole text of Macbeth when we did it for our Year 9 SATs but don't quote me on that. Maybe teaching the full exam texts is useful to the student because it gives them more material to call upon during the exam; perhaps it is different for coursework texts which are so often based on very specific questions that may only relate to a few chapters worth of the text. Perhaps here it is a better idea to focus on the specific area in question and teach it thoroughly than to teach everything in less detail. (I guess the argument that kids are now taught for exams rather than general knowledge would be relevant if that were the case...)

We had to buy many of our books ouselves and I know a lot of people didn't bother. I wonder if it's perhaps easier for teachers to select a relevant extract, give everyone a copy of it and know the whole class has access to it rather than finding the activities you've set for the whole text are limited by only a third of the class actually having access to it.

And I know you're mainly talking about GCSEs here but I remember that, at A-level, we did the full versions of the set texts (coursework and exam texts) and lots of extracts from other texts for bringing in as comparison points in our essays. I know I found it a little frustrating because some of the extract (wider reading) texts we did were much better than the set texts but I guess it just encouraged me to go on and read the full versions of the extract texts. I know a few other people who that did as well so maybe part of the point is to give a taster that students can then explore themselves? That said, my English lit class was full of people who couldn't care less so that message was lost to about 80% of the class...

Anyway, just some thoughts... It would be interesting to know if there's a correlation between whether texts are taught in full or as extracts in state and public schools...

10-09-2011, 10:23 PM
I think that over here in the US testing has a lot to do with the move towards using extracts as well. Public schools are obliged to have their students score at a certain level or they stand the chance to lose their funding. Those tests use extracts and a certain type of questions, so that is what will be taught in class. Private schools have no such burden/obligation, so they are free to do what they want/what they feel is best for their students, including reading the entire novel in its unmodified version.

11-04-2011, 04:07 PM
Mmmm.... An Australian here (well South Australian to be precise).

Schooling here is different from state to state, but over the most recent years there has been a move to standardise it across the country.

When I went to study English at year 12 (called matriculation here) there were three types of English on offer, PES English, SAS English and contemporary English (or English in space as it was sometimes referred to as). Each had a different requirement. Each was the same in public schools as private schools as the exams were identical across the state. PES English was aimed at University entry, and involved reading a number of Shakespeares plays in full (3 from memory), as well as a number of other novels in full as well as a series of poems (from a number of different Authors). SAS English was not as demanding, requiring comprehension and the usual English requirements, and still required reading novels/works in full. I am uncertain what the contemporary English involved but I know that it did not involve reading any Shakespeare.

So here in Australia, the level of reading in English depends on which subject you take, not on which school you go to. The requirements for the exams are identical across the state (and wil be eventually across the country) for each of the three streams of English.

However, I am not sure if English is still compulsory in year twelve (last year of high school). It was when I went.

Don't know if this helps? :)

11-13-2011, 10:13 PM
In Ontario, at least at my school (where I teach, not study) we don't generally use excerpts, but we don't read all that many full-length novels, either.

Partly, this is because we're teaching kids who do not yet have basic literacy skills. I think every English teacher on my staff would LOVE to explore great literature with their students, but when we're dealing with grade nine students who can't write a simple, grammatically correct sentence, we have different priorities. We're also in charge of teaching not only reading and writing, but also oral communication (speaking and listening) and media studies (generally critical literacy skills, but we also do some film studies, internet studies, etc.) There just isn't room to add a whole lot of full length novels once all that's taken care of.

Another aspect of the situation is that we're moving towards a skills-based understanding of the subject. If we're focusing on a specific skill (drawing an inference, for example), that can be done just as effectively with a shorter work. Reading 'the classics' is more of a content-based model, in which students are expected to be familiar with a canon of great literature. We don't do much work with that because there isn't time, but also because there's some serious debate about the exact nature of the canon being studied. Why so many white males? Why are so many of them American or British? What about the literature of women, Canadian authors, authors of colour, etc.? When we widen the scope of our studies to try to be more representational of ALL the great literature in the world, once again we don't have time, and we try to give students a taste of a wider sample of works by reading short stories, poetry, non-fiction articles, etc.

We do offer literature courses in grades 11 and 12 (Canadian Lit. in 11, World Lit. in 12) that are aimed to give more in depth study, and these courses are where we find the students who are likely to pursue English at the University level.

11-18-2011, 06:07 AM
I suppose when you consider that Dicken's original audience didn't read his stories in novel form (as they ran as magazine serials, I believe), then dumping the whole novel on an unsuspecting youth might be a bit much. That said, I read several Dickens novels during my 4 years of high school in the US in the late 1980's. Shakespeare, too, but never the full plays until college.

We were assigned several novels a year, and expected to read more of our own choosing. Several kids didn't bother (Heart of Darkness made me ill). English was required every year until graduation.

Thinking of what Captcha said, my bf is a school teacher in an at-risk area and he has similar difficulties as many of his students speak English as a second language. It's all he can do to instill basic reading skills with most of them, and a few just zoom ahead because they're far more proficient (oddly, those kids are from non-English speaking countries!).

12-27-2011, 01:40 AM
I went to high school in the late 1960's and we read many of the classics, never an abridged version. Never. In fact, we were always 'reading' a book, even if the lessons for that week were on grammar, writing, poetry or some other facet of the English curriculum.

Later I taught in the same school system (small town, pop. 20,000 in MA) and once again, whole novels were read, never abridged.

I recently retired and would be abashed if suddenly my old school system started assigning abridged versions or extracts. We read a lot of Dickens and Shakespeare, Mark Twain; every junior in high school read Moby Dick. In my last years teaching I noticed the English curriculum changing a little, to include a more diverse selection of literature, but the classics remained. There was also required summer reading. (A reading list is provided and students select from that.) During the first week of school in fall a reading test is given on the book or books which have been read.

Also, students at the middle school level are assumed to always be 'reading a book.' This book is carried around with other books and at various times a silent reading time is encouraged. (When a student has finished taking a test, for example. Many a time I'd tell my students, after finishing their science test, to 'take out their reading book.' I'd do this even if they had science homework because I didn't want science materials out on the desk while other students were finishing their test.)

I always felt the curriculum in this town was rather rigorous, challenging and demanding and apparently it is. (Allowances are given for 'poor readers' but they are also expected to read an entire book, first page to last.) Over the years I went to school (and later taught) there were various 'parents groups' who protested the length of some books, the quantity and the 'relevance' of certain titles. But the English Department and school system in general has always stood its ground and maintained a high standard. (One year a parent told the English department that 'Dickens' was too hard for ordinary readers and irrelevant to our times. I recall one of the English teachers saying to this man, I don't think a Japanese parent would be complaining about that. Dickens remained in the curriculum.)

But I don't think my town was much different from those surrounding it. And I do know our students scored quite high in state testing. More than once I had a student who moved south or west and would report back that, wow, we're reading stuff in high school that I read in Grade 6 or 7. Some of our former students would be bumped up a grade.

All in all, standards still vary across the country (US) because up until now those standards were set first by the town, city or community, and then later by the state. Nationwide standards are only now coming into play and many of them are lower than those set by the some of the individual states.

01-19-2012, 08:09 PM
I remember in 9th grade, we had to read Julius Caesar. We each read a section out loud. I was a good reader, but some people struggled, whether it was the reading or the reading out loud, and were embarrassed in front of the whole class. That only reinforced that reading was not for them. If you force kids to digest a novel, they are just going to watch the movie. Short stories have been sadly neglected for a long time, but they have been a vital part of literature.

05-01-2012, 11:32 AM
I wouldn't know in the UK, but during my high school years the only "excerpts" was reading only three books of "Paradise Lost" instead of the full twelve mainly because we didn't have time and "The Odyssey" in ninth grade (although I'm not sure why we didn't read the whole thing).

Otherwise, we read full works of plays and novels. From "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Mrs. Dalloway."