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Kids without books.

Posted by Big John on June 2, 2011

This article in The Guardian about children and books reminded me of a post which I published in January 2008. I think it may be worth a fresh look …

Neither of my parents had much of an education, both having left school at an early age.

My father started work when he was thirteen, taking over a milk delivery round from a man who had gone off to fight in World War I in 1914. My dad always joked that the horse that pulled the cart was smarter than he was.

My mother left school at a similar age and had just started work in a draper’s shop when that war ended in 1918.

Although lacking in formal education they were both literate and far from stupid, in fact my mother, who worked in a laundry for most of her life (it paid a shilling a week more than the drapers) ended up running the place, after she undertook to do the ‘book-keeping’ and other clerical work, even though she had never been trained to do so.

Now I have to say that although my formal education lasted until I was sixteen (and a half) I was not the greatest of scholars and my school reports always had lots of .. ”must try harder” .. or .. ”needs to pay more attention” .. comments when it came to such subjects as maths, science or Latin. However, I wasn’t too bad at ’English Language’ and always enjoyed the ’English Literature’ lessons: but how I hated that homework! … I would sit at the kitchen table struggling with logarithms and bloody theorems or trying to memorize “amo, amas, amat” and wondering why plurals didn’t end in ‘s’, and verbs had to go at the end of sentences.

My parents couldn’t help me with my homework, but they did more to educate me than they ever knew, when they forked out some of their hard earned cash for me to join a book club.

Although I used to borrow books from the public library, the ones I got in the mail every few weeks were mine to treasure until this day. Reading them and re-reading them stimulated my interest in literature, and led to the eclectic collection of books which now weigh down my bookshelves.

The actor Michael Caine is famous for his … “Not a lot of people know that” … when divulging some little known fact, and when I sometimes do the same, and am asked … ”How did you know that ?”… I simply reply …

“I must have read it in a book sometime.”


5 Responses to “Kids without books.”

  1. The decline in literacy has been sad to see. One of the factors has been a proliferation of silly education theories that governments have accepted without scrutiny. Education has also been “dumbed down” to an amazing extent and the resultant school certificates have declined in value to match.

    Teaching in higher education, I was able to see the consequences of this in undergraduates who couldn’t spell and didn’t even have the nous to use a dictionary to check their work. In maths and sciences, first year degree programmes had to be revised downwards to teach incoming students what they should have learned during their A Level studies. Naturally, by starting at a lower level, you end at a lower level, and the first degree is no longer the respectable qualification it once was.

    When I was young and went on a train journey, I would take a book, and when I lifted my eyes from the page, I would see my fellow passengers reading too. I still take a book on the train but when I look around at my fellow passengers, what are they doing? Watching videos on their laptops…

    Very soon, an ability to write non-trivial text in correct English will be as arcane a skill as drafting inscriptions in Latin. And in the same way, almost nobody will be able to read the resulting text…

  2. Betty said

    The downhill slide started with the “new math” and “new English”. Schools seem to have stopped teaching grammar and spelling. So, nobody knows what an adverb is, for instance, and since spelling went by the wayside, nobody seems able to spell or pronounce words correctly. What is to be done?

  3. Big John said

    Betty and ‘Tiger’ … Yes, trendy teaching methods and ‘dumbing down’ have taken their toll. When I was at school I sat at a desk facing the teacher, and my attention would still wander (until I got a clip round the ear), so how children today can concentrate sitting around tables and facing the wrong way I do not know.
    I left school a couple of years after the G.C.E. certificate was introduced with 3 ‘O’ level passes. This was considered average. 4 or 5 was good. Now everyone seems to pass just about everything with A* !

  4. Rummuser said

    Big John, the problem is with modern information technologies. Even illiterates are now, depending on how you look at it, ill or well informed and do not see the importance of being literate except for the old three Rs which help them navigate the remote control gadgets or keyboards. In our days, we had to read as one of the few pastimes available and that is no longer the case with so many other distractions possible. Times have changed. I would not say that they are better or worse, but just different.

  5. Maria said

    I have to agree with Ramana. Times have changed and I am afraid spelling and grammar suffer for it. Texting with its abbreviations is partially to blame for this. I also feel that we as a society will pay for the lack of reading especially the classics. On the other hand, technology has brought us Google and a whole wonderful way of researching.

    As of late I seem to be more and more out of step with the thinking of younger generations, but perhaps that has always been the way of the elderly.

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