Thursday, 10 March 2011

Tiger's list

Tiger brought me a list. It began, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Hamlet.

These are the plays she wants to see. She's read as many story versions of Shakespeare as she can find in the library; she says they're all good, and now she wants to see the plays.

I am delighted, over the moon, cartwheeling with joy. But I don't tell her. I nod, say okay, and treat her list as if it is absolutely normal, matter of fact, could be a shopping run. Celery, tin of tomatoes, red pepper, Macbeth.

It's not normal, of course it's not. No 11-year old at school ever came to me with a list like that. But I don't think this daughter is especially academically gifted, or precocious in her reading, or even aware that her list might surprise some people.

I think she has arrived at that list for several reasons. First, the way she's been brought up. Thanks to her education away from classrooms, she's becoming passionate about art, theatre and books.

I just handed someone ammunition. Someone will cry, Aha! not a broad and balanced education then! School would be better placed to give a child 'an all round education!'

Crap. She's an arts girl. She's unlikely, at this point, to change nature, character, and disposition to become a maths graduate. If that's likely, I'll see it and let you know. Anyway, to accuse parents from wordy backgrounds of failing to raise maths scholars is a bit like complaining that parents who are musicians fail to raise kids who are chemists; that science-driven adults fail to raise dramatists, and that Jewish parents don't raise Catholic kids. Parental outlook, attitude, education, interest, input, home culture: it all impacts massively on the child you raise.

Simply, as parents, we're bringing Tiger up to enjoy reading; anything and everything. It's not going to surprise me if she looks for challenge and interest within it, including Shakespeare. If her tastes are wide, varied and filled with adventure, all the better. My mother would read Tolstoy in the morning and Catherine Cookson in the afternoon. I want my kids to be the same; to know that freedom, that scope, that great enjoyment of reading.

But there's that list. It's so worthy! I'm sure someone will suspect that Tiger has arrived there because we have a fixed agenda, and she's been hot housed. That is one popular idea when a child is 'not seen at school'. When we're not beating up our little darlings, we restrict their liberties, present narrow world views and sit them at desks forcing them to study Shakespeare from age eight.

I can only laugh. Tiger is mostly left alone to wander about her chosen reading areas. If I'm taking any credit, I might have pointed her in that direction by library visits, reading aloud, showing enthusiasm. Then, simply by taking her to the theatre, as often as possible. (Hey! we don't have to get up for 7am starts!) That's my meagre way of a literary education at primary age.

Tiger's list is there because school isn't. Schools commit crimes against reading. They control books; restrict texts to times and places; place books in hierarchy and value; introduce some texts as difficult and others as easy. Classrooms chop up the reading process, make it laborious, bothersome, slow and painful. Children are tested for what they read; their reading must test the effectiveness of the system. This is anti-book culture; it's anti-educational.

But it's what schools must do. You cannot inculcate an atmosphere of quiet reading with a class of thirty-two, twenty minutes till playtime and a government test to undertake on Friday. It's simply not possible. They must cater for the timetable and parcel it up in testable chunks, contain the kids at either end and keep everyone busy without allowing anyone to think too hard about anything. Tiger's not had this background. If she wants to read continuously, quietly, and privately for five hours straight on her Shakespeare story collection, she can.

Finally, Tiger's got her list because she's not had to put up with other kids telling her that Shakespeare is rubbish, too hard, or pointless.

This doesn't mean she's not had contact with other kids, nor that some kids she has contact with in the home ed world might not hold those views. It is because in the home ed world we find a lot more respect for each other's passions and specialisms. Children in this world generally do not tear round the playground organising a gang to beat up the nerdy kid who wants to sit in the corner with a book. In the home ed world there is a lot of respect for individual approaches, attitudes and points of view.

So of course I took her list, said okay, and straight off was able to tick one. Macbeth is being performed by Cheek by Jowl. We visited the library, borrowed the playscript and I read the play at home (two half-days), introducing themes, ideas, characters, lines to listen for.

At the theatre, my kids were the youngest there, were glanced at, and, I suspect, one or two of the glances conveyed the impression that someone thought I obviously didn't know what I was doing, bringing young children out late at night to a performance of psychological drama, murder and consequence.

I know exactly what I'm doing. Creating a child who delights in art, books and theatres. Tiger never lifted her eyes from the stage. She, like both her sisters, was totally fixed and silent throughout, absorbing everything and, afterwards, eager to share ideas. We talked until after midnight, expressing thoughts about as much as we could think of: from the stage set to the mime actions, the delivery of lines, costume, movement of characters, to the lighting, sounds, and use of dry ice.

When I asked Tiger if she would see Macbeth again, she answered a definite Yes! Then added, And I want to see Richard III.


Firebird said...

Nothing strange about that at all! Dd saw her first Shakespeare play aged 3 1/2. This year, aged 7 she went to see Hamlet, which she pronounced to be very good. We'll be catching The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing in the summer. This from a non-reader. We just go to see the plays and then talk about them afterwards. I've wondered about the whole language issue and how she always managed to follow the plots, and then it occurred to me that when you're that young the world is FULL of words you don't know the meaning of, so Shakespeare is nothing special.

Grit said...

i find this immensely reassuring and satisfying, firebird! having taught shakespeare for gcse to years 10 and 11, thinking 'what is the effing point of this torture' i find it immensely satisfying that kids just go and enjoy seeing the drama on stage. it confirms me in the belief that teaching shakespeare in the classroom is a complete waste of time and nothing more than a containment exercise.

MadameSmokinGun said...

I've got a problem with Shakespeare and it's this: Luvvies. Making it seem all high-brow and clever and above the head of the average Joe. Extending one syllable into a warble of 5. It's boring. I like Shakespeare as done by Am Dram or kids - real people delivering the lines like real people. Then I can just hear the actual words and my brain can do the rest. Giving me enough space to interpret it my way. I'm like this with poetry as well - I can't stand actors reciting poetry - it's like they are putting up a barrier between me and the soul of the words. Hearing a kid read out Tyger Tyger burning bright for example just as they see it and with no dramatic pauses and rises and pathos etc = brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I've just found your blog (don't know why it's taken me so long; it was there on Lucy's blogroll for all to see...)
But now I wish I hadn't found it as it's making me mourn the long lost days of home edding. (My offspring are now 25 and 21).
We followed the arts/bookish/music-loving path because that's the kind of people we are, too. Shakespeare et al were exciting and interesting, never boring. My daughter's maths is still appalling (and I tutor English and maths!), but we all LOVED our home edding years.
I'll keep reading your blog, though. I'm masochistic like that! :o)

Grit said...

mme sg, i sympathise. every so often i used to torture my class with dreary recordings of poets reading their own poetry (or rather, sombre old men vicars weighed down by their own significant pausings).

the people i happily listen to now on the poetry front are john cooper clarke and simon armitage. i tell you, i never came out of 1987.

cheers penny! i hope you find something here to engage you! may you be a reader who sticks around longer than 'less than 5 seconds' (thanks, 67% of you on the secret statcounter. you can bet i truly regret using the words 'naked' 'bali' and 'men' in the same post).

Anonymous said...

Oh, I know what you mean! I'm with Wordpress and can see how many people have read which posts. When I compare the number who've read my blog compared with those who've commented! Did the rest of them just glance over it, sigh boredly (or sneer) and then move on? It's enough to give you an inferiority complex!

No, I'll linger, and savour every word, idea and photo! And then comment! (Though I often have to catch up. Life is far too busy here...)

Kelly said...

Well, this is bad. I'm not keeping up. I was so busy writing my version of the HVI and RIII stories that I missed this post entirely! Exciting, exciting! Macbeth is really such a journey. My favorite productions have included a "time-appropriate" one set in the early middle ages, in Vancouver. The actors all wore spectacular wigs, which would have been distracting if the acting hadn't been so good. Then two years ago we saw it at the Oregon Shakespeare festival and the set was all BLOOD RED and BLACK!!!! Very dramatic. And scary. Macbeth was African American with an enormous booming voice. He did the crazy bits really well. Then, the next year, they did a theatrical version of the film Throne of Blood, which, of course, was based on Macbeth. Spectacular. Oh! Oh oh oh! Get that film for Tiger!!! She will love it!

Kelly said...

And when I say he did the crazy bits well, I mean that he took a flying leap and jumped up onto the table, just like Olivier. Man, I wish I could have seen that one.

Fioleta said...

I didn't get a chance to listen to this podcast yet, but it was recommended by the woman, who does CraftLit podcast, and I thought maybe Tiger (or you) will find it somewhat interesting