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Isis Lecture (Lecture given at the Oxford Literary festival in 2003 ) - Philip Pullman
[from this page: http://www.philip-pullman.com/writings

"This was the first extended piece I wrote about education. I wanted to say what I thought had gone wrong with it, and suggest some better ways of doing things. The lecture was given during the Oxford Literary Festival in 2003."]

"I’m going to talk about culture this afternoon, in the widest sense; about education and the arts, especially literature. It’s my contention that something has gone bad, something has gone wrong in the state of education, and that we can see this very clearly in the way schools deal with books, and reading, and writing – with everything that has to do with literature, and the making of it. When more and more good teachers are leaving the profession in disillusion and disappointment; when the most able undergraduates are taking one look at a career in teaching, and deciding that it offers no scope for their talents, and turning away to do something else; when school headships are proving harder and harder to fill – then we’re doing something wrong.

I think it boils down to this: that education now is suffused with the wrong emotion. Somehow, over the past quarter of a century, ever since James Callaghan’s famous Great Debate speech, we have seen confidence leaking away, and something else slowly seeping in to take its place. What that something else is, I shall come to near the end. No doubt some of the confidence was misplaced; no doubt we needed a Great Debate. But I think the benefits that came from it have long since been exhausted. It’s time for another way of doing things.

So first of all, I’m going to look at what’s happening now, and I’m going right in to the glowing, radioactive core at the heart of the engine that drives the whole thing: the National Curriculum and the SATs. I won’t spend too long on these things, but we do need to look at the actual stuff to get a flavour of the thought behind it, and this is what the Qualifications Curriculum Authority says about the Reading part of the English tests at Key Stage 2 – that means, in human language, at age 11.

They think that reading consists of using a range of strategies to decode, selecting, retrieving, deducing, inferring, interpreting, identifying and commenting on the structure and organisation of texts, identifying and commenting on the writer’s purposes and viewpoints, relating texts to the social, cultural and historical contexts.

That’s it. That’s all. Nothing else. That’s what they want children of 11 to do when they read. They don’t seem to know that reading can also be enjoyed, because enjoyment just doesn’t feature in the list of things you have to do.

Mind you, it’s just as well that they don’t have to enjoy it, because they’re not likely to have a copy of the books anyway. In another unit of work – 46 pages, to get through in a fortnight – they are to study Narrative Structure. The work’s built around two short stories and part of a novel. It’s not expected – this is interesting – that the children will have their own copies of the complete texts, though some pages may be extracted and photocopied.

But the whole book doesn’t matter very much either, because books exist in order to be taken apart and laid out in pieces like Lego. One of the things the children have to do in this unit of work is to make a class list of “the features of a good story opening.” This is where it stops being merely tedious, and starts being mendacious as well. The teacher is asked to model the writing of an alternative first paragraph for one of the stories. The instructions say “Read through the finished writing together. Check this against the criteria for a good opening – does it fulfil all of these?”

I can’t say it clearly enough: this is not how it works. Writing doesn’t happen like this. What does happen like this is those Hollywood story-structure courses, where there are seven rules for this, and five principles of that, and eight bullet-points to check when constructing the second-act climax. You cannot write a good story by building up a list of effective openings. It is telling children a lie to say that this is the way you write stories. Apart from anything else, it’s profoundly vulgar.

Then there is the Reading Journal, which children have to keep. Among other things, they have to:

List the words and phrases used to create an atmosphere

Write a fifty word summary of a whole plot

Pick a descriptive word from the text and, using a thesaurus, write down five synonyms and antonyms for that word

And so on. What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it’s “slaves’ work, unredeemed.”

Those who design this sort of thing seem to have completely forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it. That’s the true reason we should be giving books to children. The false reason is to make them analyse, review, comment and so on.

But they have to do it – day in, day out, hour after hour, this wretched system nags and pesters and buzzes at them, like a great bluebottle laden with pestilence. And then all the children have to do a test; and that’s when things get worse."



"So said Ruskin in 1853. Again, we didn’t listen. Ruskin went on to point out that when you do trust people to act for themselves, they are free to make mistakes, to blunder and fail; but there is the possibility of majesty too. Do we want human beings teaching our children, with all their faults and follies and limitations, but with all their depth and grandeur as well? Or do we want managers, who are glib and fluent in the language of audits and targets and performance indicators and mission statements, but who are baffled by true originality, who flinch and draw back from it as if it were deadly poison?

The extraordinary thing is that they are the same people. They could all be free, if they chose. Some of the young people who come into teaching may be timid and narrow-minded, but don’t think for a moment that I think that they’re not capable of courage and curiosity. They’ve never had a chance to show it; their teachers are afraid themselves. Marilyn Mottram of the University of Central England in Birmingham, who has been studying the way the National Curriculum and the Literacy Strategy work in schools, wrote to me last month: “When I work with teachers on developing ways of using texts I’m frequently asked ‘… but are we allowed to do that?’ This sort of continuing anxiety about literacy teaching,” she goes on, “suggests that a culture of conformity has been quite securely established among our primary teachers and, like many others, I find this deeply disturbing.”

These young people are tigers born in cages, and kept caged until they think that being caged is a natural condition; and they look down at themselves, and they see their magnificent stripes, and the only way they can understand them is to think that they themselves must be made of bars: they are their own cage; they dare not move outside the little space they occupy. But they are tigers still, if only they knew."



"So here are five steps we should take, starting right now.

Do away with these incessant tests; they only tell you things you don’t need to know, and make the children do things they don’t need to do.

Abolish the league tables, which are an abomination.

Cut class sizes in every school in the country. No child should ever be in a class bigger than twenty.

Make teaching a profession that the most gifted, the most imaginative, the most well-informed people will clamour to join; and make the job so rewarding that none of them will
want to stop teaching until they drop.

Make this the golden rule, the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: Everything we ask a child to do should be something intrinsically worth doing.

If we do those five things, we will not bring about a golden age, or an earthly paradise; there are more things wrong with the world than we can cure by changing a system of schooling. But if we get education right, it would show that we were being serious about living and thinking and understanding ourselves; it would show that we were paying our children the compliment of assuming that they were serious too; and it would acknowledge that the path to true learning begins nowhere else but in delight, and the words on the signpost say: “Once upon a time …”"
philippullman  education  canon  teaching  writing  howwelearn  howweread  howweteach  howwewrite  reading  literature  management  unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  schooling  policy  curriculum  culture  society  meaning  johnruskin  learning  schools  pedagogy  literacy  purpose  life  living  pleasure  via:derek  storytelling  stories  fear  intrinsicmotivation  children  self-esteem  self-confidence  language  communication  time  slow  results  accountability  measurement  testing  standardizedtesting  standardization  2003 
april 2018 by robertogreco
If you’re 18 right now, you think you invented... - Austin Kleon
[For the record…

1. I like mood boards.
2. This *and* that. There is room for and beauty in both naivité and knowing.
3. I lean Bill Cunningham on this.
4. I also like remix culture.
5. We all are, have been, and will be belated. ]

"
If you’re 18 right now, you think you invented platform shoes. You think you’re doing something new. You think you’ve invented something so ugly that it’s beautiful. When we were young, we knew things. We knew basic history, even as it related to fashion. Now, when something reappears, an 18 year old has no clue that it’s a revival. Despite the fact that they’re almost always online they don’t get references. I think that’s part of why visual things are becoming so derivative. Designers now, they all have these things called mood boards. I suppose they think a sense of discovery equals invention. It would be as if every writer had a board with paragraphs of other writers—’Oh, I’ll take a little bit of this, and that, he was really good.’ Yes, he was really good! And that is not a mood board, it is a stealing board.

— Fran Lebowitz being delightfully cranky. (As for the stealing board, good idea, I think Phil Pullman would call that “reading.”) Like she says in her Paris Review interview, “I wouldn’t say that I dislike the young. I’m simply not a fan of naïveté.” Fun to compare with Bill Cunningham, who has 20 years on her, on seeing a youthful art show: “It gave me the greatest hope for our civilization.” I liked later in the interview, where she makes fun of young people for having a good relationship with their parents. (“Our parents weren’t our friends. They disapproved of us.”) Reminded me of Stafford Beer: “If we can understand our children, we’re all screwed.”"
austinkleon  franlebowitz  youth  philippullman  billcunningham  2015  staffordbeer  children  generations  naivité  parenting  hope  moddboards  derivation  design  remixing  remixculture  culture  history  discovery  invention  belatedness 
march 2015 by robertogreco
It's not only adults who need comfort reading | Books | theguardian.com
"A new report into what children are reading at school shows a "marked downturn in difficulty of books at secondary transfer", it was revealed today. The books children are reading in year 7, according to the report What Kids Are Reading, include tons of Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid titles and David Almond's (wonderful) Skellig, along with Roald Dahl's The Twits and George's Marvellous Medicine. By year 7, says the study, which calculates the reading level of a book using software that measures the text's complexity, "students are reading at over a year below their chronological age".

According to the report's author, Professor Keith Topping, this is a "matter for alarm". According to Philip Pullman, speaking on Radio 4 on Wednesday, there's not much need for panic. "Isn't it only the natural thing to do? You go from being a big child in a small school to a very small child in a very big school. There's all sorts of new anxieties, new people to meet, thousands of new things to do – so isn't it natural you turn back to the things you felt safe with when you were younger? I remember doing that myself," said Pullman. "I am a bit puzzled why there's all this anxiety, that they're not reading for pleasure, that they're reading the wrong books. Well, no, it's not the wrong book. If the child is enjoying it, it's the right book.""
via:ayjay  books  reading  howweread  education  anxiety  readinglevel  2014  pleasure  children  schools  philippullman 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Philip Pullman interview: the ‘religious atheist’ – Peter Jukes – Aeon
"In a rare interview, Philip Pullman tells us his own origin story, and why the great questions are still religious ones"



"For 12 years, the pupils of an ordinary Oxford middle school must have had one of the most astonishing educations in the country. The classroom gave Pullman a space to learn as well as perform. ‘It was like being given the keys of the Rolls-Royce,’ he says of teaching the Classics. ‘When I’m reading, I’m looking for something to steal,’ he continues, confiding that his own daemon or animal familiar would be a thieving magpie or raven. ‘Readers ask me all the time the traditional question “Where do you get your ideas from?” I reply: “We are all having ideas all the time. But I’m on the lookout for them. You’re not.”’"



"‘I like to say I’m a complete materialist but…’ Pullman allows himself an English teacher’s dramatic pause, ‘matter is conscious. How do I know that? Because I’m matter and I’m conscious.’ Once again, Pullman opts for complexity and nuance, and you can hear the same dislike of hierarchies in his critique of some popular science. ‘What you often get in people of this stripe (and Brian Cox — the TV physicist — goes in for it as well), is a sentence of the formula “X is no more than/just/merely/nothing but Y.” For example: “The world is nothing but the action of molecules” or “Love is merely the movement of electrons in the brains.” Sentences of that sort are nearly always mistaken,’ says Pullman. ‘I would prefer they were put in the form of “Love is a movement of electrons in the brain, among other things.”’

‘Among other things’ would be a great motto for Pullman’s ambivalence (or should that be multivalence?) about matters of belief, fiction and science. He is of the old school of secularism which holds that faith should be kept out of the public sphere, but still refuses the kind of inquisition that seeks to root out mistaken beliefs: ‘What you feel and believe are private to you and belong to nobody else,’ he counters. ‘What you do in the public sphere is what’s important.’"
philippullman  2014  interviews  religion  belief  ambiguity  nuance  love  science  hierarchy  hierarchies  writing  howwewrite 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Pin pages to the wall and examine them with binoculars - rodcorp
"Truman Capote wrote lying down, as did Marcel Proust, Mark Twain and Woody Allen.

Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Fernando Pessoa and George Sand all wrote standing up.

Roth also "walks half a mile for every page".

Roald Dahl wrote in a shed.

Philip Pullman used to write in a shed, but eventually gave it to an illustrator friend.

Umberto Eco has a converted church as his scriptorium. One floor has a computer, one has a typewriter, one in which he writes long-hand.

Haruki Murakami commutes into a city apartment in Tokyo where he writes.

After the publication of Joe Gould’s Secret, Joseph Mitchell came to the office at the The New Yorker magazine almost every day for the next thirty-two years without filing another word.

Dashiell Hammett published nothing after he was 39 - he felt he was repeating himself but never managed to find a new style he felt was good enough.

Ray Bradbury wrote an early version on Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter in the UCLA library basement.

Will Self uses a wall of Post-It notes to plan and structure his writing.

Elmore Leonard writes on yellow legal pads.

Michel Faber corrected the first manuscript of The Crimson Petal and the White with house paint because he couldn't afford Tipp-Ex.

Gustav Hasford was a serial hoarder of very overdue library books, and had 10,000 of them in storage lockers.

Don DeLillo types each paragraph onto its own sheet of paper, so that he might concentrate better.

Gay Talese would pin pages of his writing to a wall and examine them from the other side of the room with binoculars.

Jonathan Safran Foer has a collection of blank sheets of paper.

Cormac McCarthy said that his perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper.

Ethan Canin copied John Cheever paragraphs out to learn what made the man's writing tick.

Anthony Trollope required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour.

J.G. Ballard, a fan of discipline in writing, prepared very long outlines and aimed for 1,000 words a day.

Walter Benjamin advocated delaying writing an idea as long as possible, so that it would be more maturely developed.

Richard Ford and his wife shot a book by Alice Hoffman, after she had given his book Independence Day an unfavourable review.

.

How I work is I recap the material from the original How we work posts [http://rodcorp.typepad.com/rodcorp/2004/12/how_we_work.html ] and the more recent links [http://pinboard.in/u:rodcorp/t:howwework/ ]."
rodmcclaren  howwewrite  howwework  richardford  walterbenjamin  jgballard  anthonytrollope  ethancanin  johncheever  cormacmccarthy  jonathansafran  dondelillo  gustavhasford  michelfaber  elmoreleonard  willself  raybradbury  dashiellhammett  josephmitchell  harukimurakami  umbertoeco  philippullman  roaldahl  philiproth  lewiscarroll  thomasjefferson  fernandopessoa  georgesand  ernesthemingway  charlesdickens  winstonchurchill  virginiawoolf  marktwain  marcelproust  woodyallen  trumancapote  writing  proust 
july 2012 by robertogreco
YouTube - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
"Yes, it was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say but no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if they open it and read it they don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me. You can complain about it. You can write to the publisher. You can write to the papers. You can write your own book. You can do all those things but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published or sold or bought or read. And that's all I have to say on that subject."
philippullman  writing  rights  freedom  freedomofspeech  publishing  censorship  disagreement  religion  belief  tcsnmy  controversy 
april 2010 by robertogreco
Chris Heathcote: anti-mega: true stories
"Being questioned about being an atheist but including an afterlife in his books, Pullman noted that the harpies wanted true stories – if you had one, you could die in peace; and, for atheists that have no predestination in life to hold on to, this is what you strive for – to have a true story to tell, an interesting, lived life."
atheism  storytelling  life  living  truth  myth  religion  philippullman 
november 2009 by robertogreco
Philip Pullman unveils his own new weekly comic serial, The Adventures Of John Blake | By genre | guardian.co.uk Books
"Philip Pullman spent childhood in thrall to weekly delivery of Eagle, Wizard and Beano. Now he unveils his own new weekly comic serial, The Adventures Of John Blake...story of a boy on a sailing ship somewhere in the Pacific. It's an adventure story, pla
books  children  comics  fiction  storytelling  philippullman  via:foe 
may 2008 by robertogreco

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