Monday, January 17, 2011

Oliver Goldsmith

A while ago it was reported that Ed Balls, then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was going to be able to decide what schoolchildren would have to read in their English classes. ‘Great!’ I thought. ‘Now that this power has been put in the hands of someone accountable to people without children, I can bother him with my ideas on the subject.’ So I did. I didn’t get a proper reply (I understand this to be his secretary's fault), and he can’t do anything about it now anyway, because Alarm Clock Britain voted him out of government. I haven’t changed my mind though. Kids should read Oliver Goldsmith. So here’s what I said to him. I could rewrite it, but this way I can kill two birds with one stone, letting you know why kids should read Goldsmith and the tone I use when I write to ministers. Are you reading, Mr Gove?
Dear Mr Balls Gove,

I hear there's a plan to have ministers choosing the books on the English syllabus, and that if it passes it will be up to you. My suggestion is that the kids read Oliver Goldsmith, and here's why:

1) He's unique in that he has only three major works, and they're a novel (The Vicar of Wakefield), a play (She Stoops to Conquer) and a poem (The Deserted Village), so it's feasible to do the whole canonical part of an oeuvre spanning all three major literary forms. The poem's long and less fun so extracts are probably the way to go with that.

2) He's funny and the novel isn't long, so the kids might actually read it.

3) The play's still performed quite a lot and is hilarious, so the kids could go on school trips to see it.

4) He's eighteenth century, which is under-represented in schools, and shows that the century wasn't just about interminable epistolary novels and brilliant but barely comprehensible proto-postmodernism.

I know you're busy, but if you haven't read the book or seen the play, at least give them a go. They're not long, and they're hilarious. The poem's less fun, like I say.


Michael Bench-Capon

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