• We don’t need no education!!

    24 May 2011

    Tonight I'm going to see Roger Waters play the classic Pink Floyd album "The Wall". I'm VERY excited!! I saw him do "Dark Side Of The Moon" a few years ago and it was spectacular. Since "The Wall" is one of my all-time favourite albums, I'm hoping he will be even more impressive tonight! Given that the album boasts one of the band's most famous lines -- "We don't need no education!" -- I thought it would be a good day to print the following email which I received from a deputy head a while back, called James:

     

    Firstly, I'm writing to you to congratulate you on writing the terrific story Cirque Du Freak! I havent read a text to the class for a long time that has had them so captivated! Your writing is superb and totally connects with our Year 6 children. It is so refreshing reading something to the class that is a real page turner! We have been working so hard towards the National SATs exams! Now they are finally over the class were allowed to choose their own class text, they chose Cirque Du Freak.

     

    I don't know if you have read the responses to this years Reading test paper but it hasn't been positive! The whole English test was non-fiction heavy, very disappointing as we had spent half the year teaching features of story fiction! The test was a joke and was so out of context for our type of children (inner city). The whole text was based on caves and caving, half of our children didn't know what caving was! Finally, the tests are over, I'm so relieved, they are a sham and are in no way a true test of the children's capability of reading and appreciating a good text. They are basically designed to help generate awful leaque tables!

     

    We have started Freak, got to chapter 7 today and the children are hooked! They shouted at me when I stopped reading! This has only happened once before in my career and that was when reading The Witches by Roald Dahl, obviously a classic! I am in awe of your writing and I must be honest, I hadn't read any of your work before the children suggested Freak. You have a gift connecting with young people through the horror genre, which is rare to find! Congratulations Darren and good luck with future projects, we will be reading more of the series.

     

    Now, obviously it's always lovely to receive positive feedback like that! I love it when teachers write to tell me about the impact my books have had in class, as it's something I'm otherwise normally unaware of. But the reason I've printed James' email is that it highlights the vast difference that there can be between educators and the education system. The latter is more often than not, in my experience, geared towards generating a series of easily tabulated results that they can feed into their computers and milk any way they wish. The people working behind the scenes, i.e. at the level where "school standards" are set, are not the sort of people whom I believe seriously care about the millions of children currently sitting in classes all around the country. Their jobs require them to think of teachers and children as machines and computers, not as individuals with unique needs and potential. I know it's hard when you're in a position like that, when all sorts of pressures come to bear on you from all sorts of angles, but still, I do feel that those On High willingly detach themselves from the human side of their jobs.

     

    Then you get teachers and librarians like James, who more than anything else want to pass on a love of learning and reading. They have to make sure their students hit the targets which they have been set by outside forces, but they still find the time to help their kids experience the joy of learning -- and school CAN be a joyous place, where the young's thirst for knowledge can be fed and focused in an entertaining, beneficial manner. What people like James understand is that if you can teach children to love reading and learning, good things will follow. I've been sent loads of letters and emails by fans over the years, saying they were reluctant readers before they found my books, but that their grades have improved enormously now that they have become regular readers. To me, the prime purpose of the educational system shouldn't be to hit set targets, but to stimulate the brains of the young, to encourage them to play a more interactive, purposeful role in the world as they mature and move on, not simply slot into a series of pre-assigned slots.

     

    There's a war being fought between teachers like James and those who relish pulling the strings from their plush offices. Libraries are being closed all around the country. Teachers are being forced to teach in a set, monotonous pattern. I don't want to come across like a conspiracist nut, but it does seem to me as if a concerted effort is being made to cripple the mental potential of the masses, to produce a country of good little worker drones, happy with their lot, content to settle for less in life. It's something I will always fight against with my novels. I will always try to produce books which are fun and engaging, but which also ask more of my readers, which will hopefully lead them to push themselves and advance and grow. And it's encouraging to know that there are people like James out there on the front lines, fighting the good fight too. We'll win out in the end, brothers and sisters, because right is on our side, and I firmly believe that for once a standard cliche got its message the wrong way round -- in the long run, might does NOT make right -- ultimately, when your heart is pure and your aims are noble, Right Makes Might!!!!

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