Education or Leisure

December 9, 2008
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GCSEs. The bane of my existence once upon a time. It was hard to find amusement in the seven hours that we were imprisoned in school every day, so it will come as no surprise that most students took interest in dissecting faintly interesting poems in hopes of finding discourteous or sadistic meanings. Many of my fellow students quickly discovered that the English AQA anthology would be the only place where they could get away with talking like garbage.

One of the most popular poems, known mostly for the protagonist’s psychotic tendencies, was that of Carol Ann Duffy, Education for Leisure. Naturally, this poem involved the murder of animals, disturbing psychotic thoughts and delusional egotistical tendencies. Considering most of us led sheltered lives and possessed a seemingly normal mindset it was always exciting to get into the head of a deranged lunatic. Because quite honestly, when did you ever pass one on the street? Or for that matter live to tell the tale?

So, it came as a great surprise when last week AQA announced that they were removing this particular poem off the curriculum. The AQA announced this travesty in the form of a letter, the signature wasn’t even real. In this letter they stated that there had been ‘public concerns about its subject matter’ and that teachers had to teach in such a way that which is ‘sensitive to all the influences upon young people today’. If this is their reason for taking the poem off the curriculum they should have done it years ago; I frequently recall the conversations with my friends about stabbing the neighbours and ruling the world from our bedrooms.

Of course I accept the fact that many teenagers would be affected by the sometimes disturbing images that Duffy conjures up, but why may I ask are poems such as Salome, Hitcher and My Last Duchess still present within classrooms and the curriculum when these poems actually commit violent acts and talk about murder so freely that it would appear part of our everyday routine. The knife. It’s that simple, the character in this poem picks up a knife. Just like Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear. Although, you can’t really try and ban the works of one of the greatest playwrights of all time can you? If you were a sane person you would start small, say the soon to be poet laureate?

Now, I’m not one to joke about knife crime because some of the stories are horrific but if you expect me to believe for one second that all of it was caused by Duffy and her 5 stanza poem that contains little to none violence I will personally set out to make sure that no one utters a word of Macbeth. Ever again.

Supposedly, last year saw 11642 stabbings and this year has seen a fall of 14%. But then again another of these vigilantly truthful papers reported that last year the United Kingdom had 22151 stabbings. Who to believe? I think that the well known phrase of lies, damned lies and statistics is appropriate here as we all know that statistics are easily twisted from the truth. Some things are undeniable, for example, six stabbings that took place over twenty-four hours, four of them being in London. And then there’s the miracle of the boy who survived a stabbing to the head.

However, if schools just took matters into their own hands and teach basic lessons on why knife crime has so much media or why the country is in a current uproar about it youngsters may actually be able to see and begin to understand the horrors that come with carrying knives instead of subconsciously trying to understand it through the disruption of GCSE English.
This is not a taboo subject, so it shouldn’t be treated as one. Don’t ruin the afternoon fun of dissecting poems when all you have to look forward to is writing a four-page essay on why Hitler invaded Poland. Learning about Hitler didn’t turn us into murdering dictators reading Education for Leisure isn’t going to turn us into knife welding thugs.





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