Sunday Book-Thought 75

However, it is also true that children are in touch with the rapid changes attendant on technology in a much more direct way than most of the adults who teach them, or support their learning at home. This brand new version of the generation gap is likely to widen – at least in the near future. It is therefore important that English teaching puts effort into being and staying ‘in touch’. This can be done by making use of the new technologies to expand opportunities for talking, reading and writing. This is no simple sop to rebelliousness, nor should it encourage intellectual laziness, as is the common assumption of the attacks on ‘media studies’ as an examination topic. It involves keeping up what has always been central to English teaching: the ability to make use of pupils’ current social interests by helping them to make connections between their lived experience and other modes of thought and expression. The use of popular culture as media for analysis makes these connections possible, and does not mean that other forms of cultural study, such as works of pre-twentieth century literature, are no longer valued by teachers.
It is important, however, for teachers to acknowledge the plural, and often contradictory, worlds of the home, the community and the classroom in order to ensure equal access for all to the most powerful genres of our culture. It would be easy, therefore, to conclude, as some politicians already have, that the teaching of the English language requires a more skill-based approach. There are stronger counter-arguments. At the secondary level, more than in any other subject, English is the site where pupils are challenged to make their own meanings and develop a critical attitude to their work while encountering issues that are most directly relevant to their lives. A focus on individual response and personal growth has an important function in education and the substitution of a basic or functional literacy would be an impoverishment and narrowing of the range of experiences available.
– Elaine Millard, Differently Literate: Boys, Girls and the Schooling of Literacy (London: Falmer Press, 1997), p. 155.

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