|Education, Education, Education - Anthology study guide|
Introduction to the Anthology
This guide is written for students and teachers who are preparing for GCE AS exams in English language and literature. It has links to detailed studies of the texts in Section 1 and Section 2 of the AQA Anthology, which is a set text for Unit 1 of the AQA's GCE Specification B for English and English Literature, from the 2003 exam onwards.
On this page I use red type for emphasis. Brown type is used where italics would appear in print (in this screen font, italic looks like this, and is unkind on most readers). Headings have their own hierarchical logic, too:
What does the exam board say?
The aim of this module is to introduce candidates to the critical assessment of a range of literary and non-literary texts. The central poetry text enables candidates to meet one of the AS Subject Criteria literary genre requirements.
This module requires candidates to
At the start of the course candidates will be presented with a small anthology. The anthology will contain a range of literary and non-literary texts on a common theme. For the 2003, 2004 and 2005 examinations the theme is “Education, Education, Education”. The central text of the anthology is a collection of prescribed poems. This text meets one of the genre requirements (poetry) of the Subject Criteria for English Language and Literature for AS Level. Questions will require candidates to deal with
The level of awareness required of candidates for assessment purposes will recognise that candidates are at the start of the course.
Mode of Assessment
Assessment will be by one written paper of 2 hours' duration. Candidates will be required to answer one question which will include a consideration of the central text. They will answer a second question which may involve them using a text or texts of their own choice from the Anthology as illustration. The Anthology taken into the examination room may contain only brief marginal annotation. Such annotation should amount to no more than cross-references and/or the glossing of individual words or phrases. Highlighting and underlining is permitted. Annotations going beyond individual words or phrases, or amounting to aides-mémoires or notes towards the planning of essays are not permitted. Insertion of pages, loose sheets, Post-Its™ or any other form of notes or additional material is not permitted.
What does this mean? Simply that...
General approaches - language study and literary evaluation
Below are some quite challenging and technical methods of using language to study literary texts - but you might like to start with some simple guides. The examiners, in the specification, tell you all the things you might have to do. If you look at a past exam paper, you will find examples of some things that they do (or did) ask students to do - though they may ask for slightly different things another time. In these questions they will not use technical terms from linguistics. Why not? Because you are not specifically required to use these, and you have only just begun the course. But you may, as your confidence grows, begin to do so. Note also, that the examiners may change the order (sequence) of the things they want to see - and you may also change it in your response. (They do this to guard against prepared essays learnt by rote.) Using the first approach, you get something like this:
What the specification asks for
The second approach may lead you to this:
What the examiners asked for (in both questions) in 2001
In your answer you should examine the ways in which the form, style and vocabulary help to shape the meaning of the texts.
The examiners are not helpful in using bullet points for the task in 1 and the texts in 2 - so it may help you to put them all into bullet points thus:
Beginning to study the texts
The examiners will set one of the central texts from Section 1 - this could be any one of the 12 poems, so you must be familiar with all of them. In answering the second question, you will be able to choose the text or texts on which you write - so you may wish to look at all of the texts in Section 2, but be selective about those you study in detail.
The examiners limit notes you may write directly into the Anthology. Even if they didn't, it makes sense for you not to cover the pages with annotations. You should never prepare entire essays or commentaries - but you should certainly reflect on, and revise, your comments, so that you are always ready to give an organized and coherent reading of any text you face in an exam.
You may, as you explore a text - alone, with help from guides like this, or with direction from a teacher - wish to write down brief notes somewhere. But only if this is your most effective learning style - it may not be. Be ready, instead, to use approaches like drawing diagrams, repeating things and committing them to memory or making audiotapes.
When you write about a text, you may find that you work backwards - that is, you reverse the sequence you use when you first read and explore a new text. It is normal to read over and over, and look closely at clues in the language - these may be some of the things you note down (somewhere). Eventually, you may form ideas as to what the text is really about, what kind of text it is, who is the intended reader and so on. Yet this may appear at the start of your comment on it - after which you will move to the detail and examine evidence, to see how specific language features achieve particular effects or communicate the writer's (or speaker's) meaning. There is, however, no rule that says you must do this - and perhaps sometimes you will start by focusing on some detail first. In writing the guides to the various texts, I have varied my approach to reflect what I found most interesting and most central to the writers' attitudes, style and structures.
In traditional literature exams, students could get reasonable marks (but not the highest grades) by making summary judgements and assertions, and quoting evidence without really interpreting it (if these judgements agreed with the consensus or generally agreed view of the text). This is not an option in the language and literature course - you must show how the language carries the writers' meaning and attitudes, or, if you prefer how the medium is the message.
You can make use of new technologies to help. Although you may not distribute or publish texts that are protected by copyright, you can copy things for your own immediate use. It is better to do this, not on a photocopier (which gives you a static document) but with a scanner. You can copy most texts in two ways:
Once you have done this, you can share your ideas (by sending people the electronic version) or show them to others with a data projector. You can also use online teaching resources. An introduction to the different areas of language theory should help you. You may wish, also, to join a forum or mailing list, like the Smartgroup for English teachers and students at www.smartgroups.com/groups/english.teaching. Alternatively, why not create your own?
Who is the author?
No-one (except perhaps God) has a complete view of education - where (and when) we are will influence our views heavily. Simply, a teacher or a pupil may see different things - or see the same things but feel differently about them. A well-intentioned or mischievous writer of fiction may take yet another view. In examining a text, you might think whether the author
You might consider whether the author writes from recent or past experience, is honest and impartial or deceitful and biased (or somewhere in between). This may lead you to
The author's purpose
Why has the author written or spoken?
There could be any number of possible reasons - but they will influence the way you should approach the text. But there is not only one kind of truth. One text might be filled with objective and factual detail, but be very selective. Another might be flippant and satirical but broadly truthful about some things. Rugby School is (and was in 1912) among the most prestigious schools in the world, yet we read that the students would scramble for pieces of toast. In 21st century Britain we worry about obesity, while students rarely go for long without a snack - we may not realize, until we see it in Louis Stokes' letters and the Bash Street Kids episode, that until very recent times, most British schoolchildren spent more of the day thinking of food, than of anything on the curriculum.
Looking at the writer's purpose may help us judge how far something that seems very odd is fantasy or merely an exaggeration of a truth.
Who is the audience?
Many of the texts here were written for very specific known audiences, while others have more general audiences. The older texts (Bacon's essay, Gray's ode) are written for audiences that, by definition, are an élite minority - since few people in the 16th or 18th centuries can read. Dickens, in Hard Times, writes for a mass audience, including people who were becoming literate, partly through the influence of his writing.
Some of the spoken texts had no real or intended audience other than the participants - we can read the transcript, but know that these utterances were not meant for us: we read them as eavesdroppers. And the child who wrote a story perhaps did so for her class teacher.
The authors of prospectuses write for parents (rather than the child who will be the real customer). “Marius Rose” writes, supposedly, for teachers seeking promotion - but his advice is qualified by its date; he appeals to attitudes and social perspectives that seem alien to the modern teacher.
Some of the writers (Willy Russell, Liz Lochhead) make their texts for audiences in the familiar sense of the noun - that is, they have made them to perform on stage. In one case, this seems obvious from the use of conventions for a theatre script. In the other it is not at all obvious; the monologue could be seen as a first-person narrative, to be read in print.
Louis Stokes had a smaller audience yet - his parents and family. Once more, we are in the position of the eavesdropper. These letters were written for people who maybe shared some of Louis' perceptions in ways on which he could rely, but which are lost on us.
What is the context in which the audience meets the text?
Some years ago London Transport published poems, on small posters, on underground trains - perhaps challenging our expectations of what we will see on a train (adverts and maps) and where and how we read poems (in a book at school or for homework, against our will).
If you are a student, you will meet these texts in the Anthology, as data for an exam course. But you should think about the context in which the original audience met them. Both Dickens' and Kingsley's novels first appeared in serial form in inexpensive magazines. Some people would read them (probably aloud) while others, unable to read, would listen - something Dickens records in Great Expectations (where Mr. Wopsle reads the newspaper aloud in the Three Jolly Bargemen) and Our Mutual Friend (where Mr. Sloppy reads to Betty Higden, who observes that “he do the police in different voices”).
Our Day Out began life in the theatre, moved on to TV, but recently has found an audience in schools, where people study it for GCSE. Louis Stokes wrote letters that might be read over breakfast in his parents' home. Marius Rose may have supposed that people would read his books rather as they read the Highway Code (to pass a test, of sorts), but maybe thought they would read it for light amusement. Alice Taylor maybe supposes that other adults may want to read about a school system like the one they remember, or may want to find out how things have changed. Her account is in a tradition of reminiscences with such books as Cider with Rosie and Lark Rise to Candleford - a sort of social history.
When and where and why do people read these books? For entertainment or information or something else? And what about Bacon's essays? The modern reader may find it hard to understand the context in which the contemporary reader would meet them. Bacon wrote polemically, arguing a case that his educated readers would accept or attempt to confute - that is, the reader would expect not merely to read and notice what Bacon has said. Rather he (or, rarely, she) would treat the argument seriously as a guide to practice, and apply it, or some contrary scheme, (or advise a patron to do so) in creating or extending opportunities for boys and young men to study. Reading these essays might help a wealthy man decide to endow a school or college, rather than spend more on his own pleasures.
Subject and theme - writers' attitudes to education
The texts in the Anthology are connected by a very broad theme - that of education. In fact, most, but not all, have something to do with school education. But this is not saying much. Some of the writers set out to describe, others to explain, attack or ridicule. Some of the writers have inside knowledge - they have been educators in or out of sympathy with the systems in which they practise. Others are outsiders - who may be passionate, amused or detached.
Some are experts on something (not necessarily education); others are ignorant - understandably, if they are children, less so if they are adults. Some of these texts attempt to depict the reality of education - but may at once distort or embellish or emphasise selectively, so the reader does not receive an even or clear view. Others depict a stereotype, an archaic or a comic fantasy.
Most of the writers here have a sense of purpose and can control the medium - yet they may reveal unintentionally their deeper or unconscious assumptions. Some of the writers or speakers are not producing texts for public reading or listening, and have not attempted so much shaping or control. And many of the writers have been caught out by changing values or (more obviously but perhaps superficially) by changes in the lexicon or in socially acceptable uses of English.
The writers here have various purposes - some are setting out to instruct the reader directly. Others are making some kind of comment or judgement on education - and these, in turn vary widely from those who espouse or condemn particular theories or philosophies to those who think only of the immediate circumstances in which education happens, or doesn't. Some of the writers are consciously or unconsciously endorsing a series of ideas that broadly represent a classical-liberal tradition. Some mock this gently (Frank Richards, Willans and Searle) while others both mock and revere it (The Beano). Tony Harrison attempts a serious critique that neither endorses nor condemns. Rather, it rehabilitates, secures the foundations of, and removes a veneer of social respectability from, the study of the classics. Harrison shows off his learning, while others may be more cautious, and some (Roger McGough) give no grounds for the reader to believe that they have any learning. More alarmingly, McGough's supposed black humour conceals an uncritical acceptance of educational fascism. A jokey “ironic” account of violence hides what it is that the violence is meant to put right.
Tradition and the canon
The history of education is a history of building up and breaking down - we move from confused and uncertain times, into ages where the educators think they know what they are doing, until someone challenges this, breaks it down and then we build up again. Kingsley in The Water Babies and Dickens in Hard Times savage the inflexible and inhumane systems of public education that resulted from the originally benevolent intentions of the Utilitarians. Later the Victorian public school system valued the civilizing influence of the classics, literature and history, but mixed up what we may call academic study with games, exercise, social deference, religious instruction and a powerful code of behaviour (sometimes known as “Muscular Christianity”). The modern English and Welsh National Curriculum goes much further in imposing a thorough and detailed model of learning on all children and young people in state schools - yet there is great public disquiet about its effects on other things that should happen in the lives of the young.
The texts in the Anthology show (as almost any collection would do) that views are as various as writers with opinions are numerous. Just as there is a canon in literature - a notional collection of important classical works, the relative values of which we may debate - so there is a kind of canonical idea of what education involves, perhaps best expressed in Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays - where the young hero faces some adversity but generally thrives in Dr. Arnold's exemplary public school. This was not a typical or representative experience - it was only open at first to a privileged social elite. But its influence on popular ideas of “good” education is immense. We find Dickens condemning different kinds of private education in Nicholas Nickleby and Dombey and Son, and the mechanical system of Mr. Gradgrind's day school in Hard Times. There is a more sympathetic and detailed portrait of a Victorian school in Our Mutual Friend, though this is eventually dropped, as the narrative focuses more on the schoolmaster, Bradley Headstone, as he sinks into despair and vengefulness. After Tom Brown, stories that praise or commend boarding school and public school abound - Frank Richards' Billy Bunter Books are typical. Later, in grammar schools, the state provided more or less this same classical education for perhaps a quarter of the population of the UK, selecting by performance in a series of rigorous standardized tests. The change to a more demotic depiction of school in modern fiction may have been influenced by Barry Hines' grim A Kestrel for a Knave and Stan Barstow's life-affirming Joby but perhaps owes most to BBC TV's Grange Hill. Willy Russell's Our Day Out is a late and sentimental addition to this alternative to the classic tradition. Before Tom Brown, however, writers like Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge all stressed the importance of childhood. And their belief that children should learn freely, from immediate experiences and their own spontaneous responses survives powerfully into the 20th century - in schools like Summerhill.
If we look at the texts in the Anthology we can see how the writers position themselves in regard to notions of curriculum, pedagogy and social control. Heaney, in The Play Way, does not have sentimental illusions about the genius of young writers responding to classical music; but he can see the point of allowing children to learn for themselves, without being forced to use what today we call “writing frames”. (We justify them, as teachers, because they get results - but without necessarily seeing what we lose by removing the possibility of certain kinds of failure.) In Comprehensive, Carol Ann Duffy writes as if the classical notion of education never happened (even though it was the grammar school system in which she grew up). U.A. Fanthorpe's Felicity and Mr Frost shares Blake's or Coleridge's view of the innocent wisdom of infants.
Changing ideas and values
It is important to see texts in their historical context - that is, to be aware that speakers and writers may share the prevailing assumptions of their own time, which later audiences may find surprising. Equally, they may make topical references that are obscure or opaque to later generations. Kingsley, in The Water Babies, refers to the sound of “Aldershot on a field day”. Readers in the 1860s might know that Aldershot was (and is still today) the site of an army barracks and training ground, and that “a field day” would see a public display of firepower - so the reference tells us that the noise is loud and suggests danger. Frank Richards, writing in the 1940s and later, supposes that his readers will be familiar with the method of studying Latin authors as used in English public schools, “construing” (glossing or paraphrasing) the Latin text aloud into English (having studied its meaning previously).
This does not mean, of course, that any unusual attitude we find in an old author means that everyone in his or her time thought that way - we may need to look at a range of texts to see how typical such attitudes were.
One idea that has a long history is the notion that childhood is a precious time, and that education is in some way an evil, that brings childhood to an end. For some it is a necessary evil and has redeeming merits. The earliest expression of such an idea, among the Anthology texts, is in Thomas Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Over a hundred years later (1854) comes Dickens' attack on a cruel system of public education in Hard Times. (Mr. Gradgrind subsidises the school, but the parents pay a nominal sum for their children to attend). A little later (1863) Kingsley attacks child labour but also the insanity of repeated exams, in ways that may seem familiar to British readers at the start of the 21st century. Willy Russell's Our Day Out is in this same tradition - arguing bleakly that education can do little to change the life chances of the Liverpudlian working classes. The Bash Street Kids is more complacent, perhaps - the children fit happily into lives where little is expected of them, and the intelligent Cuthbert is a social misfit. But then, in 1953 there was more or less full employment in Britain - the real children of Bash Street would not need to learn much; at 14 they would leave school and begin apprenticeships or start work on the factory floor somewhere - Leo Baxendale (the original author) accepts that academic attainment is for a minority. There is a kind of running gag in the teacher's unending struggle to motivate his pupils.
A rather different idea is that of British private education as an unregulated fraud - Willans and Searle suggest this gently in Down with Skool, while Evelyn Waugh is more explicit - incompetents staff the minor public school in Decline and Fall, and the pupils learn nothing except by their own wits. This is a satirical view, favoured by many authors (we find its origins in Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, in the portraits of Dotheboys Hall and Lowood). Against this we can set the favourable depiction in the official prospectuses - such as those from the Christian Brothers College in Bristol and St. Bede's College in Manchester.
The modern texts here largely depict state-funded and public education. We see the views or opinions of writers - which may be more or less informed, but are not objective evidence. We do find such objective evidence in the various transcripts that show children at work - and we can see how far these support or contradict the writers' opinions.
Reference and allusion
Some kinds of author, especially those in the literary tradition of what we might call high culture, are aware of each other, and especially of those in the past, in a fairly explicit way. How? These writers
In doing this, the later writer is not plagiarizing but honouring those who went before, as well, perhaps as making a claim to be part of what one critic has called “The Great Tradition”. As you study the texts in the Anthology, you may need to know that many of them look beyond the author's own horizons.
Quite how you are expected to find this out is another question - it relies on our having guides around us to alert us to the possibility, and on our own memory, so that we meet something in one context, and recall seeing it, or something like it, elsewhere. In this guide I have pointed out all those allusions and cultural references with which I am familiar, wherever I have noticed them. For example, in 1985 Carol Ann Duffy could suppose that most readers would know at least that I Spit on Your Grave was a so-called video nasty. Had she been thinking of readers of her poetry many years later, she might (but who knows?) have avoided a topical reference the point of which might soon be forgotten). But if we do not know about I Spit on Your Grave, we might miss something of what Ms. Duffy wants to tell us about Wayne. Whether the poet wants us to see the film to understand Wayne better, is something I leave to those (not me) who have seen it.
Structure and form
After the first section of twelve poems, the texts represent a huge range of types - with varying structures and using differing forms (novel, poem, prospectus, transcript and so on). The one thing you do not (almost by definition) have is a single very long text. So we see extracts from long books, which show the structure of a chapter, say, but not the whole plotting of Hard Times.
You are not required to comment explicitly on either of these - but both (form especially) will help you to find a way to write about the author's attitudes and values.
Literary voices and natural speech
Many of the literary texts here contain representations of, or approximations to, natural or spontaneous speech. You may think that these approximations (like the dialogue in soap operas) are authentic. They aren't. You can verify this by looking at the transcripts that record the unstructured speech of children of various ages in differing situations.
The examiners want you to explain how the writers achieve particular effects. As you comment on what their attitudes and values are, you will move to the techniques they use to convey these things - moving from what the text is about to how the writer does it. In the individual guide to each text, you will find specific comment on the techniques (or lack of them) on view. But it may help you to know some commonly used techniques, so that you can spot them, and explain how they work in the situation where they occur, for any text. Among these are:
Lexis and diction
What's the difference? Lexis is an objective or descriptive noun - it confers no judgement, and implies no value system; it is neutral as regards aesthetics. Diction, on the other hand, refers to a special lexicon favoured by poets at a particular historical period, and by some readers and writers ever since. Its defining characteristics are that it is literary and intentionally different from the common or demotic register of everyday popular speech; practically, since spoken English uses many words of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) provenance, poetic diction favours the Latinate word or phrase. It also favours indirect, oblique or euphemistic expressions - as “feathered friends” for “birds” and “finny tribe” for “fish”.
The writers of some of these texts deliberately use such diction, while others favour more demotic language, especially when representing speech. But most have some special lexis - they make choices of vocabulary that reflect their ideas about school or education. Sometimes this is very easy to spot and explicit - as when the fictitious Nigel Molesworth (Text 19) and the real Louis Stokes (Text 27) use the private lexicon of their own school, or the slightly wider lexicon of inter-public school slang. It is really the same kind of local or institutional lexical variation when it appears in official school documents, like the two prospectuses (Texts 26 and 31). But both of these documents contain another source of special lexis - they present schools with a religious affiliation: so we may wonder how far they show a general lexicon of schools and colleges, how far a lexicon of religious devotion and how far these may be mixed to produce something peculiar to religious or denominational education - that is, can we find anything that would not be in a secular school prospectus or a document written for Catholics outside of an educational context? Sometimes, the writers' choices come from one or other, but in a given phrase or sentence they are combined so that the education and the Catholicism seem inseparable and equally important: “...modern education with respect for clear moral values, taught in a confident, Christian framework.” You might like to say of each lexical word in this extract (that is, omitting the grammatical words: “with”, “for”, “in” and “a”) whether it is religious, educational, both of these, or neutral as regards religion and education.
An individual writer or speaker may be influenced by social, geographical and institutional lexical variations, but will have his or her own distinctive language system - or idiolect.
In exploring any text, you will focus on lexis - which may be more or less important. In the letters of Louis Stokes, for example, you will see words in the common register used with non-standard meanings - “fearful”, “decent” and “sporty”, for instance. These are part of Louis' idiolect as much as the more familiar public school lexis, like “fagging”, “man” (for “boy”) and “ripping”.
Language change is closely related to changes in the attitudes and institutions, customs and mores of a society (though it is hard to distinguish cause from effect here). But it is a clearly different thing and you should not confuse the two. So we might find an essentially similar attitude expressed in very different words or usages at two different times. We need to be alert to this or we may misconstrue an older text by importing into it the contemporary meaning of words. At a simple level, language change means that lexical choices are often an indication of date. Seamus Heaney, in The Play Way quotes a child who says “Can we jive?” “Jive” is such an ephemeral word (like “groovy” or “Cowabunga”) that it places the text within a quite exact period - unlikely before 1960 or after 1970. (In some varieties of urban US English “jive” is current, in a related but slightly different sense, as in the Bee-Gees' 1975 song Jive Talkin' and even as a descriptive title for a language variety.) But equally, in the St. Bede's prospectus, “framework” dates the text after 1970, while the metaphor in “key reasons” probably narrows the date down to something after 1985. (In this case, the attitudes in the text are probably even more telling in dating the text to a time after 1990 - the essentially Thatcherite starkness of judgement by results is softened by platitudes about “well-rounded” young people who “will grow in self-esteem”.
© Andrew Moore, 2002; Contact me