Saturday, September 27, 2008

Interest don't come into it, darling!

I'm mildly enraged by the suggestion made by Kate Broad, the new head of Britain's national languages centre" (CILT) that foreign language teaching ought to remain optional in English schools.

In a dazzling display of razor-sharp argumentation and hard-hitting eloquence, she explains her position in an interview with The Independent:
At the end of the day, when it [foreign language learning] was compulsory, were they [pupils] learning or were they just sitting in the classroom? If you stick everybody in the classroom, are they really learning French or are they just sitting in there, getting bored and disruptive?

Now, I'm not only taken aback by the Palinesque incoherence of Mrs Broad's comment (which might be down to Palinesque subediting at The Independent, so I won't nag), I'm also puzzled by the casual calm with which she commits her well-nigh suicidal act of backstabbing.

Above all, however, I'm amazed by her apparent lack of understanding of the minds and psyches of adolescents (especially her firm belief that they might harbour deep interests in anything school related). So 14-16-year olds are more likely to become "bored and disruptive" by an exposure to French than, say, trigonometry or PSHE? Get real!

Methinks Mrs Broad ought to reconsider her take on her new position - as well as, possibly, languages in general. (Or is she speaking from experience? Maybe the new head of CILT was herself bored by her French lessons - which made her apply for the job in the first place?)

But then again, any reconsideration on Mrs Broad's part might be completely hypothetical, given that she seems to be hell bent on torpedoing the institution that she represents - whose motto, by the way, is "promoting a greater national capability in languages".

[UPDATE]: John has drawn my attention to a related post by Norm Geras, inspired by Naomi Alderman's contention "that if children are forced to do something they don't enjoy, it will backfire, turning them against whatever they're forced to do". Norm's laconic comment is spot on: "The problem with the assumption is that often people don't get to know whether they'll enjoy something without there being external pressure on them to do it".

I'm truly tired of this lame "interest" argument, partly because it has repeatedly been turned against me in the past. When certain "colleagues" of mine feel the need to be nasty, they sometimes do so by discounting my courses as being "not interesting" for our students. This is not only nonsensical, but also utterly autodestructive. If my teaching choices were determined by what students find "interesting", I would be spending the next 20 odd years teaching Bridget Jones's Diary and About a Boy and nothing but.


Anonymous said...

dear anja,

nice to see you back after what has obviously been a relaxing and thought-provoking time for you both. - i do agree with you that a certain amount of pressure and work might be needed so that people are finally able to decide whether something interests them or not - but please be fair to your students: there are indeed some of them out there who have a genuine interest in what you teach and whose literary horizon is not limited to "about a boy" and "bridget jones". after all, i was one of them!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm just deluded, but I'd rather assume that school curricula should be defined by the question what students need to know and not by the question what they consider fun...

By the way, I would not go so far as to assume that university students have a genuine interest in Bridget Jones's Diary or About a Boy etc. - those texts are simply common school literature and therefore familiar, i.e. safe grounds.


P.S. Still enjoying the end of monarchy?

The Wife said...

Dear both,

Of course, of course, the world is full of exceptions (also when it comes to students) - but don't they just prove the rule?

Which is: People in general are not interested. Human beings on the whole love to stay put (mentally and otherwise). We don't like to expand our horizons too much. Thinking is hard. Reality is brutal. The end is nigh ....

Though I do admit, Nele, that I'm triumphantly smug about yesterday's Bavarian election results. Pity, though, that they were partly brought on by my fellow Franconian Beckstein. And that I didn't have the chance to participate actively in this ... landslide (well, as landslidey as an election in Bavaria can get) ... with my vote.