Shakespeare would have wanted the kids at Kingsmead school to study the Simpsons

July 21, 2010 at 10:03 am 85 comments

by Alec Patton

The BBC reported today that over 400 parents at Kingsmead Community School in Somerset have signed a petition demanding that the school’s Media module stop using class and homework time to analyse The Simpsons, and devote the newly freed-up time to studying Shakespeare. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, parent Joseph Reynolds particularly recommended A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘There’s a time and a place for The Simpsons,’ Reynolds said, ‘but it doesn’t belong in the classroom.’ Reynolds appears to have a particular understanding of pedagogy, based on two commonly-held but erroneous premises: that the main function of education is to expose students to new things, and that education that prepares students to negotiate the day-to-day world they’ll be living in is not ‘real’ education. I’ll look at these assumptions in turn:

Exposure is not the same as understanding
People who don’t understand education often think that a teacher’s job is to introduce students to unfamiliar things. Actually, the best teachers help their students to look at familiar things with new eyes – so physics teaches students to look at suspension bridges in a new way, biology completely alters their understanding of saliva, and learning about the Holocaust completely transforms what they think when someone calls somebody else ‘queer’ on the playground.

It’s wonderful when a teacher introduces you to something that you’ve never encountered before, but it’s just as wonderful when teachers turn the everyday into something rich and strange.

To their great credit, Kingsmead are standing behind their Media teachers. Assistant Head Andy Dunnett told the BBC that ‘Students are encouraged to look at the text in a critical way. Initially it’s about building up their skills as critical thinkers. They also learn about different aspects of the media; audience, visual narrative, presentation and stereotypes, and some quite high level thinking ideas like satire, irony and parody.’

This brings me to my response to Reynolds’ second assumption…

Education should prepare students for living in the world
You might think everyone feels this way, but the curriculum suggests otherwise. To give one example, most schools take it for granted that ‘there’s a time and a place for economics, but it’s not the mathematics classroom’. So, students graduate able to measure a triangle within an inch of its life, but not to compare interest rates on mortgage offers. And they graduate able to identify a sly reference to Spanish succession in an Elizabethan play, but not to critically engage with popular media – that is to say, the billboards, posters, magazines, TV programmes, and advertisements that tell them they should buy more, lose weight, plug their sweat glands, indulge in snack foods, despise those who come to this country looking for protection from tyranny, and get angrier at benefits cheats than at tax cheats. There’s some pretty dodgy stuff in a Midsummer Night’s Dream (the play’s first scene explicitly argues that if a woman falls in love with the man who kidnapped her, it’s a good thing), but kids aren’t going to be encountering it every day for the rest of their lives.

William Shakespeare himself suffered the slings and arrows of the dreary snobbery that animates Reynolds’ petition – Ben Jonson alluded to this when he interrupted his memorial poem to Shakespeare to point out that his subject ‘hadst small Latin and less Greek.’ Shakespeare got his own back most effectively in Love’s Labour Lost, with the latin-spouting buffoon Holofernes, who analyses a contemporary love poem as follows:

You find not the apostraphas, and so miss the
accent: let me supervise the canzonet. Here are
only numbers ratified; but, for the elegancy,
facility, and golden cadence of poesy, caret.
Ovidius Naso was the man: and why, indeed, Naso,
but for smelling out the odouriferous flowers of
fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing:
so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper,
the tired horse his rider. But, damosella virgin,
was this directed to you? (IV,2,1268)

It’s easy to imagine a real-life Elizabethan Holofernes petitioning a school to stop teaching Shakespeare, and teach more Ovidius Naso. Shakespeare, who in his time was a contemporary writer (a fact often-forgotten by crusaders like Reynolds) vividly understood how education calficies when it neglects what is happening NOW.

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85 Comments

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  • 2. Zaria Greenhill  |  July 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    All well said. There is another implicit assumption that underpins Reynolds’ criticism: that education is to prepare students to fit in with existing culture, values and identities: to conform, in other words. This is troubling in that of course the assumption that ‘life’, or ‘work’ or cultural and political shapes, issues and challenges are going to be the same in the future as they are now makes no sense. But it is the current assumption behind most compulsory education.

    Encouraging challenge, questioning, analysis, framing, testing of ideas, dialogue, stretching ideas and accepting multiple perspectives is at the core of another kind of education, which could take as its central function that of examining and challenging current culture and ideas.

    In my opinion, both Shakespeare and the Simpsons can provide a context for that. what would happen if you asked a class of, say, 12-year-olds to choose between a lesson on Shakespeare and a lesson on the Simpsons?

    • 3. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

      I hardly think George Orwell was a conformist. Nor Mark Twain. Nor Hemingway or F Scott Fitzgerald. My daughter was required to read one book this year. One. No plays. No short stories. One book by Michael Morpurgo. There is no balance here.

  • 4. theagingfanboy  |  July 21, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I agree, a marvellous essay. One correction (I think) – the 400 signatures were gathered in the town centre, I don’t think they were all parents. This makes it worse of course.

    Personally I think it comes down to snobbery. I bet if David Cameron and Prince Charles said they liked The Simpsons and thought it should be used as a teaching aid the 400 signatories would take their names off the petition.

    • 5. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm

      You think we’re all stupid and you’re the only smart guy. Who is the snob?

      • 6. theagingfanboy  |  August 23, 2010 at 11:09 am

        Back from leave and find this. No I don’t think you’re all stupid. If you are one of the people who signed something so ridiculous you just offer yourselves to ridicule. I really do think that it’s all based on snobbery.

      • 7. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

        aging fanboy, maybe it’s time to go back on leave. You aren’t making any sense.

  • 8. alecpatton  |  July 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Theagingfanboy – that’s interesting, and actually, I hope you’re right. If it was in the town centre, then the signatories probably wouldn’t have had access to the full story – they would have had someone with a clipboard asking ‘do you think it’s right that the Simpsons are replacing Shakespeare at our local school?’ or words to that effect.

    This throws the whole question of how much parental support Joseph Reynolds’ campaign acually has wide open. I’d love to know more about this, if anyone has more information.

    • 9. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 8:23 am

      Alec, I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t. I looked into this and decided that a ‘parents only’ petition would be judged as turning the parent/teacher relationship into a customer/client relationship. This advice from my father who was an English teacher for thirty years. A community based petition would be much stronger. Mind you, there are many, many parents on the petition.

    • 10. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      Now you want me to stand only where you decide I should stand. Hell, why don’t you put me in a closet and put tape over my mouth. For some reason, you seem to think it is unfair of me to stand in the town square (where dozens of parents pass by every day) instead of in front of the school (where there is no pedestrian traffic. Maybe you should do some research, look up Wiveliscombe on Google Earth, and see how far the school is from the Square. Maybe 250, 300meters. The kids come up to the Square every lunch time from school. You are now grasping at straws with the ‘validity of the petition’ claim. Sad.

  • 11. Kayte Judge  |  July 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Nice one Alec. I did a degree in comparative religion at SOAS and did an independent study project on new religious movements in the media. The Simpsons have an excellent episode when Marge gets ‘brainwashed’ by a ‘cult’. The episode was absolutely spot on with the academic thinking at the time regarding stereotypes and religious discrimination. It really brought the topic alive and could be used with any class of undergrads to introduce the subject. And it was funny as hell, which helps.

  • 12. theagingfanboy  |  July 22, 2010 at 6:19 am

    The article on the Daily Mail website [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1295062/Angry-parents-accuse-school-dumbing-English-showing-The-Simpsons-class.html] looks like the Town Cetre in Taunton to me, and the BBC News website says that “Mr Reynolds collected signatures for his petition in the local community”. Is there a published survey of the actual parents?

    • 13. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm

      Wrong. Time to put away your Sherlock Holmes cap, fanboy. You’ve failed Detection 101. Not Taunton. Wiveliscombe.

      • 14. theagingfanboy  |  August 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

        Oh dear, cut to the quick. It’s not outside the school gates. Resorting to bluster just makes you look more ridiculous.

      • 15. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

        You are the one who made the false and erroneous allegations, then failed to apologize. You are the ridiculous one.

  • 16. splodge  |  July 22, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Thank you for this fantastic article. Not only were the signatures collected in the town centre, but he approached only older people, regardless of any connection that they may have had with the school. When younger parents tried to talk to him about the petition, he walked away.

    • 17. Other Paul  |  July 23, 2010 at 7:00 am

      That’s the difference between a sample and a petition though. Somebody who’s petitioning has a perfect right to select the constituency to suit the purpose. You can’t reasonably complain about that.

      • 18. larryy  |  July 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm

        You can complain about that if the petition is subsequently claimed to represent the (unbiased) sentiment of the affected families. I’m not saying Mr. Reynolds has done that, but there is certainly a risk of it being so misinterpreted.

        The scale of the protest is also telling. You could probably get 300 signatures on a petition to ban Shakespeare from the classroom if you targeted your audience appropriately.

        Heck, in this country (US) you can apparently get major fractions of the population to disparage gays and blacks and to vote against their own self-interest. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get 300 signatures to ban oxygen from the atmosphere if you worked at it. But I expect better things from the UK.

    • 19. joseph reynolds  |  August 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      A couple of comments.
      1. My daughter was required to read one book all year. One.
      2. I did not target ‘old people’ as splodge reports.
      3. 400 community people is stronger than just parents. Society is saying ‘enough of your edutainment’, not just parents.
      4. I garnered 400 signatures in 25 hours of standing in The Square. What will it take Kingsmead to back away from this weak course? 1000? 2000? 25, 000? I have no doubt I could get them.
      5. Received my first ‘hate mail’. Written in Latin. Ironic, given that schools are abandoning that language.
      6. My father was an English teacher for over thirty years. I know what education is. The Simpsons is not it.

      • 20. Other Paul  |  August 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm

        Your knowledge of education seems to omit that of the nature of sample sets. You can’t use a sample characterising one group (parents) and claim that the same size sample is of a bigger group (community) without *weakening* the sample’s statistical weight – the exact opposite of what you seem to think. You’ll need rather more than 400 to justify that somewhat grander claim. You have no doubt you could get 25000? Go on then. Let’s see you do it.

      • 21. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 6:28 am

        The sample includes parents and community members. If my sample is now ‘weaker’, then you must admit that the school governors, who are made up of parents and community members is a weaker organization than a body only made up of parents. Of course, this is not the case the governors would make, is it?

      • 22. Other Paul  |  August 2, 2010 at 7:31 am

        Your response tells me that either I’ve not explained very well, or you don’t understand. I might infer from asking a suitably large sample of dog-owners if dogs are adorable, where 90% of the sample answers yes, that about 90% of all dog owners think dogs adorable. I can’t then claim that because dog-owners are part of the community, 90% of the community thinks dogs adorable. I’m sure you’d agree that’d be silly. But it appears to be what you’re saying in your (3) and (4).

      • 23. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm

        Paul, soon you will be telling me that my sample can only be taken from teachers. Or maybe from one-legged dog owners. Or, in reality, you think the sample should only be a sample of one, you. There are only about 1500 people living in this area. A significant proportion are under age, or should I include them as well? I stood in The Square and asked anyone I could. I did not interfere with people working, or people shopping. I asked mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, people with no children, dog owners, old people, young people. Only about 6 were actually in complete disagreement with me. Only another ten or so just disagreed, but more sympathetically. Then there is always the matter of teachers and staff, wary to put their names down, but some sympathetic, others not. This is not a Gallup poll. I am one guy standing in the street. I think that takes a little guts. No matter what my sample is, you will try to distract with these red herrings. The facts are simple, the community wants it out, and you don’t.
        You should actually see the size of this place. It is not Times Square. Take a look on Google Earth. I just had the pleasure of also gaining the signature of the local councillor, Eddie Gaines.

      • 24. Other Paul  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

        I originally commented here in defence of your right to gather the support you wanted – that’s what a petition is.

        But let’s not pretend that what you’re doing is a properly conducted scientific survey of the views of the population on this matter. When you get your 25000 supporters – your claim, not mine – we’ll have a better idea. I’d’ve accepted a much smaller number, but if you want to make rash promises who’m I to argue?

        And by the way, you have no idea what I think about the matter. I have offered no opinion. You aren’t entitled to say “the community wants it out, and you don’t”. Either half.

      • 25. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm

        You are a real enigma, Paul. What is it you want, a scientific survey, conducted by ‘expert survey takers’ from Gallup. Or maybe a survey or petition isn’t good enough and you want to start a double blind random trial.
        Or hey, let’s cut the crap. I’m a merchant seaman and I am going to sea, so your 25, 000 won’t be listed in the next ten minutes. Perhaps, I’ll grant you, that was rash. But you should plant your flag for The Simpsons as a worthy six week course of study or not, instead of worrying about the scientific polling conditions in Wiveliscombe Square. Honestly. Your scientific polling conditions blarney is just a red herring. Let’s talk about The Simpsons.

      • 26. Other Paul  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:59 am

        I’m afraid it’s a tad late to characterise ‘your support’ (or lack of it) as a red herring. You’ve been responding to my observations long enough for anyone to reasonably infer you were interested in them.

        What you have is a petition, not a survey. And that’s fine. And there’s an end to it.

        Bon voyage. – and I do hope that, to a seaman, that’s not the equivalent of naming the Scottish Play.

      • 27. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:31 am

        Yes, there is an end to it. You’ve finally agreed with me. Thanks for the vote of support, Paul.

      • 28. Other Paul  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

        Wow. You really do infer an awful lot from what I don’t say, don’t you? Knock yourself out, as the illiterati say.

        You’re clearly a last-wordist, so go ahead.

        (And the name’s ‘other’, btw, if you really want to be familiar 🙂

      • 29. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm

        What you have is a petition, not a survey. And that’s fine. And there’s an end to it.

        Your words, not implied. I said, thanks, we agree. I don’t know how this could be construed as ‘what i’ve not said’.

        Though I have enjoyed duelling with you, op, your views on The Simpsons being taught as a core six week program of study still remain opaque.

  • 30. Boost  |  July 22, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Local Paper:

    http://www.somersetcountygazette.co.uk/news/8271556.Head_teacher_backs_Bart_and_Co/

  • 31. Britterz  |  July 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Well said all the above and a great article. A* all around.
    My full support goes to the Head along with the staff of Kingsmead Community School. They are only doing what any teaching professionals do: engaging their students using well known characters. This often brings in humour (of which I am a big advocate!) and enhances their knowledge and understanding of various subjects by using familiar subjects.
    What a rediculous silly man! All schools in our country need ALL the help and support they can get, especially from parents. Constructive critisism is always good and welcomed however I can’t possibly believe that he has any real idea of what is required in the school curriculum. The hardest thing to open is a closed mind…Students minds need to be opened in order for them to learn and enjoy their learning. Is he doing his child any favours? Probably just being an embarrassment! Quite frankly his pompous out of date attitude ‘totally sucks dude!!’!

    • 32. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      My daughter was required to read one book this year. And, btw, my daughter can string a sentence together better than you can, you silly man.

      • 33. Britterz  |  August 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm

        And I have no doubts that your daughter can string together better sentences than you Mr Reynolds, too, without the use of text talk. I honestly wish your daughter well though as I would all students who are in education.

      • 34. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 6:58 pm

        Does Britterz grab a coke and a basket of chicken wings, settle in front of the tv for a Simpsons episode? Or bone up on his sentence structure? Hmmn…tough one.

      • 35. Britterz  |  August 3, 2010 at 9:15 pm

        Your reply to me suggests that you are a very sad man (and I use the term ‘man’ loosely). Just wondering what your wife thinks of your little mission?
        And ‘BTW’… insulting people over the internet makes you look an immature attention seeking prat.
        I will not be responding to any more comments or replies from you.
        I meant it when I wished your daughter well and still do.

        END OF.

    • 36. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 9:39 pm

      Sorry, Britterz. You started it. You called me a rediculous silly man. You spelled ‘ridiculous’ wrong, by the way. I’m glad you don’t have the gumption to stand up to me. Because, frankly, you are a poor opponent. At least ‘Other Paul’ could carry on a conversation.

  • 37. delphinedryden  |  July 23, 2010 at 12:29 am

    As a novelist, former educator and fan of both the Simpsons and Shakespeare (I have only formally studied the latter) I applaud your article and the common sense of the other commenters. What so few people realize is just how much of the humor in the Simpsons depends on the viewer’s cultural literacy. My favorite example is the episode in which Marge is playing Blanche Dubois in a musical version of a Streetcar Named Desire (Streetcar!) and Maggie spends time in a daycare called “the Ayn Rand School for Tots” where they take all the children’s pacifiers and stuffed animals away. Bonus culture points for film references to “The Great Escape” and “the Birds”, in that episode. And don’t even get me started on the Gilbert and Sullivan stuff in the Cape Fear episode.

    One really has to wonder if these protesters have ever actually watched the show? Or…are they just unable to recognize all these references? It’s probably the most literate show on television.

    • 38. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      You give me no credit, d. Of course we’ve watched the show. And you are actually making an argument for me, if you didn’t realize it. The cultural and literary references in The Simpsons are only going to be realized by someone with a classic academic background like yourself. I read Tennessee Williams in school. What kid is going to read Tennessee Williams now? The tail of media studies is now wagging the dog of English Literature. Maybe, in fifteen years, there will be a parody of The Simpsons, and the kids can just study that to know about The Glass Menagerie. Is this really what you want? My daughter was required to read one book this year. One. No short stories, no plays. Is it too much to ask for a little more literature?

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  • 41. Nicola  |  July 23, 2010 at 1:14 am

    surely there’s room for all of this in any school…expose kids to a diverse, rich curriculum where Shakespeare can be studied alongside The Simpsons. It’s only the purists who will complain and who wants to be that narrow minded.

    • 42. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Nicola, I assure you I am no purist. My father was an English teacher and head of department for thirty years. There is a place for The Simpsons, as I’ve mentioned. If a teacher wants to use it as a hook to bring students closer to stronger material, I’m all for it. But for a stand alone class of instruction for six weeks? No. This was, I will remind you, the SOLE content for six weeks. Wilfred Owen got one lesson. My daughter was required to read one book the entire year. Am I reallly being unreasonable in asking for some more books, plays, literature?

  • 43. Pam  |  July 23, 2010 at 1:42 am

    My kids have been watching the Simpsons since they were toddlers. They now have a keen understanding of all the things you mentioned — irony, satire and parody. They’ve also learned a lot about the fallacies inherent in religion and politics and have learned to question their own prejudices.

    And the cultural references? This show can’t be beat for references to classic films, television programs, sports, popular music and even Shakespeare. What other show does all that?

    I’m glad this school is backing its teachers. Here in the U.S., the administration would have caved in immediately.

    • 44. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm

      Maybe you should have just home-schooled the kids on Simpsons? I learned irony and satire from Mark Twain and George Orwell, then I appreciated it on Blackadder. Is there no room for more books. Is this it, one book the entire year? Does that really seem right?

      • 45. Pam  |  August 18, 2010 at 5:04 pm

        I’m sorry I took so long to get back to you. I’ve been on vacation.

        I should have been clearer. While my kids have watched the Simpsons since they were toddlers, they also have read widely. I do homeschool them, as a matter of fact, so that gives me latitude in choosing reading material for them.

        I just checked my daughter’s freshman reading list. She read about 40 assigned books, including the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, Dante’s Inferno, Hamlet, Anthem, The Prince, Le Morte De Arthur (she hated that one!) and Dracula, among others. Her pleasure reading list of about 70 books included the vampire books by Stephanie Meyer as well as MacBeth, several biographies of the Beatles, Alexander McCall Smith’s novels and books by Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinnelli and other well-known and not-so-well-known authors for young people.

        What I’m trying to say is that there is room for both books and media such as The Simpsons. If your daughter’s class has only read one book, then that is the issue, not whether they’re studying satire, parody and other literary elements in a television show for a brief period of time.

        Most literature teachers, at least here in the U.S., usually have a list of books the kids will tackle during the year. This list might be adjusted for time and unforeseen circumstances, but at least it will give the basics. If your daughter’s teacher has planned for only one book to be read, then I’d like to know why. There could be a simple explanation. Is the teacher using excerpts of books? Short story compilations? Are the kids supposed to be choosing their own books and reporting on them?

        I don’t want to get into an argument with you or anyone else, but I see great value in using modern media in lit classes. Sometimes using shows like The Simpsons will spark something in a child and encourage her to investigate things on her own. I know when my kids saw The Simpsons version of The Raven, they were keen to read the poem for themselves and insisted we visit the Poe house in Philadelphia during our family trip to that city. You never know what might spark a child’s imagination.

      • 46. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 9:09 am

        Pam, thanks for your comment. I am an American. I had my father get his old colleagues at North Andover High School to send me the reading list. Wow. Impressive.
        My daughter’s cousin in Virginia has a similar list.
        We don’t. You also mention the idea of using The Simpsons as a hook to lure the children into stronger literature. Great idea. That isn’t what they are doing here. The Simpsons is the content. For six weeks. Sole content.
        As for my daughter getting only one book, I’d like to know why, too. The answers I’ve received so far have been risible.

  • 47. Les  |  July 23, 2010 at 2:12 am

    You can bet that Matt Groening (Simpson creator) knows his Sheakespeare, mythology and epic poetry inside & out. That’s how his references are spot on so much of the time.

    • 48. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:27 am

      Absolutely. I have no doubt Matt had an academic English class, something that many here are too eager to deprive the children of. The things that make The Simpsons so clever, the literary and cultural and social references, are great if you have an idea of what these great works are. You are robbing the children of the understanding of the satire and irony and parody if you deprive them of the works themselves. How are they supposed to get the joke if they are never familiar with the content, like we are?

  • 49. global2858  |  July 23, 2010 at 2:28 am

    I hope that you write can be useful for the people and always to your success

    • 50. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

      Is this above a sentence?

      • 51. Pam  |  August 18, 2010 at 5:06 pm

        Perhaps this person’s first language is not English. I understood the remark.

  • 52. Bob Arthur  |  July 23, 2010 at 2:37 am

    Seems a little redundant given existing comments, but I’d like to add my thanks and complete agreement with your well-delivered argument.

  • 53. Peter Spicer-Wensley  |  July 23, 2010 at 4:42 am

    I think children should be exposed to more Shakespeare – they don’t see enough murder, regicide, suicide and patricide on TV and Shakespeare is replete with all of the above. I think that The Simpsons is very clever and has many references to literature, theatre, film, art and science. I think that Shakespeare is not accessible to many children until their senior school years unless ‘dumbed down’ or in film form such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. I do think that contemporary sources are valid and think it essential for teachers to show the familiar in new light and introduce the new and occasionally shocking. (Such as the holocaust.)

    • 54. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:24 am

      Too bad we missed out on The Diary of Anne Frank this year, or Hiroshima by John Hersey. I must have missed the episodes where The Simpsons covered this.

  • 55. Web Design Kent  |  July 23, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Well said and I wholeheartedly agree

  • 56. W0NK042  |  July 23, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Why is it always “Shakespeare”. It’s a media class for crying out loud. So instead of watching a long running show, that has lots of context, of which changes depending on your age/awareness (you know, something from the media of TV), they should do exactly what their parents did (in English).

    – I think these “Parents” need to be taught what a media course is.

    • 57. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

      It’s not a media class. It’s English class. You need to be ‘taught’ how to get your facts straight.

  • 58. Jude m  |  July 23, 2010 at 8:15 am

    The quality of the earlier Simpsons episodes, before they became afraid of R Murdoch is absolutely superb. The plot intricacies, literary references and use of language cannot be beaten. This is because some of the finest writers of their time have worked on that show as a team and the output is at least as good as the sum of their talents. Sometimes it’s even better.

    • 59. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

      I’m sorry, I didn’t notice Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Sarah Waters, Roth, Updike and Carey listed in The Simpsons credits. You are overplaying ‘the finest writers of their time’. The Simpsons is a 22 minute show full of great gags. Just because they have applied some cultural or social references does not give them some profound iconic status.

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  • 62. apocalypse2oblivion  |  July 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Great points! I love the Simpsons and Shakespeare so I’d have had no problems

  • 63. Matthew O'Connor  |  July 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Fantastic argument. AA Gill once sat down to a dinner party next to a mature lady. When she asked him what he did, he informed her that he was an artist. Repulsed, she asked “not one of those modern artists, I hope?” He replied “no no. I’m a grand master from the Renaissance. Born in the 15th fucking century, I was.”

    • 64. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      What relevance is this quote, Matthew? That you can show how clever you are by quoting AA Gill? I’m not seeing the thread. Maybe I should have watched a double episode of Simpsons last night instead of reading a book.

      • 65. theagingfanboy  |  August 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

        Can you really not see why it’s relevant? Also very funny.

  • 66. Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive |  |  July 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    […] 400 parents have demanded that a school stop using The Simpsons in its media modules instead of Shakespeare. Here’s a post from Innovation Unit about why Shakespeare himself might well have been in favo…. […]

  • 67. Top Posts — WordPress.com  |  July 24, 2010 at 12:02 am

    […] Shakespeare would have wanted the kids at Kingsmead school to study the Simpsons by Alec Patton The BBC reported today that over 400 parents at Kingsmead Community School in Somerset have signed a […] […]

  • 68. michaeleriksson  |  July 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    While I could see a lot of good coming from studying the Simpson (likely a better attention keeper than Shakespeare, while still having some actual content), I would also warn of the risk of a good theory not working in praxis.

    I wanted to quote something from “Buffy” (keeping with the spirit), but seeing that I did not find the quote on the web, I have to make very rough paraphrase with the right gist:

    Professor of popular culture on the first lecture of an introductory course: This course is not about making fun of popular culture, it is not about earning easy credits, and it is not about watching videos during class.

    With that premise, a study of (or with the help of) popular culture can be quite legitimate, but the question is: Did his students agree? (For that matter, would all other teachers agree?) If not, the class could easily degenerate from study to entertainment—and with school-childen, rather than college students, the risk is far higher.

  • […] and that I need to have one totally frivolous celebrity add. And because he tweets cool stuff like this, […]

  • 70. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 6:46 am

    If schools are supposed to start teaching us such skills as figuring out interest rates and understanding advertising, why don’t they teach the children other important skills like negotiating traffic, driving a car, and wiping their bottoms. Surely, these skills are more essential than analyzing the back of a box of cereal. But schools don’t usually do that. This idea that the children will walk around like zombies in a fugue state because we don’t teach them the skills to analyze and understand The Simpsons or The Teletubbies is ridiculous.
    I don’t know why all of you are in such a state. You think you are ‘sticking it to the man’ by insisting on this edutainment. But the man is gone. You have won. This is the education we have. You are the man, and now I’m sticking it to you.

  • 71. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 6:52 am

    BTW, I know what a ‘media course’ is. This is not a ‘media course’. This is Year 8 English. If you want to debate the merits of whether we should teach the media, fine. My opinion is we shouldn’t do any ‘media studies’ at all. Do it at university if you are so interested.

  • 72. joseph reynolds  |  August 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Nice, Mr. Patton. Congrats on reprimanding me as not being able to ‘understand’ what is going on. You are the one who does not understand. It’s just like how the Brits all laugh like drains when a woman dresses up like a man. I GET the joke. It’s just not funny. I GET the purpose of the curriculum. I just disagree with your philosophy entirely. It is not through any lack of understanding.
    Here’s what I read in Year 8 English:
    Animal Farm, Orwell
    Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
    Inherit the Wind, play about the Tennessee monkey trial
    April Morning, Howard Fast
    Moonfleet, J Meade Faulkner
    The Most Dangerous Game, short story
    The Necklace, du Mauppasant, short story
    The Gift of the Magi, short story
    The Rocking Horse Winner, short story
    The Hollow Men, TS Eliot, poem
    The Cask of Amontillado, Poe, short story
    The Tell-tale Heart, Poe, short story.

    Here is what my daughter read:
    Private Peaceful, Morpurgo

    I think that says it all. So don’t give me your blarney about how I dont’ understand. My father was an English teacher for thirty years. Head of department for ten. High school English. So. Give me a break.

    • 73. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      Come on, Alec. Where’s your sense of pedagogy? What, you don’t have the chops to debate a poor uneducated, ‘rediculous, silly man’ like me? Please. Bring it.

  • 74. .  |  August 3, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    seems to me someones got nothing better to do :D! i find it stupid that you would take time out to stop a system that is working. get a job and stop crying over it 🙂

    • 75. joseph reynolds  |  August 3, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Nice one. What is this, the ‘neener neener neener’ school of priceless comebacks? The system (education, I assume) is not working. When you teach only one book a year in English Class, it is a total failure. Love your little faces, though. Very profound and interesting.

  • 76. michaeleriksson  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I note that a few of the debaters above would do well to revisit some of the lessons present in Shakespeare’s works…

    • 77. joseph reynolds  |  August 4, 2010 at 6:47 am

      Yes, Michael. As you can see, I didn’t reply to your original post. You put out some interesting points and I was waiting for anyone besides myself to comment on them. So far, no takers, though. Though I’m sure the school will deny this, I feel that the six week Simpsons course of study is not employed because of some rigorous ideal of academic achievement, but because kids like Simpsons. My daughter was required to read one book the entire year. I agree, that if you wanted to employ a Simpsons course at A level or university, it might (emphasis on might) be more relevant due to the fact that the kids have actually been exposed to the literary works and cultural/sociological ideas that are referred to. Not in Year 8, though. It used to be that when the kids got their shots they would get a lollipop. Now all we give them is the lollipop.

  • 78. kathrynrosetyler  |  August 10, 2010 at 8:36 am

    I’m afraid Alec hasn’t been able to respond to your posts Joseph because he has been away on annual leave. It’s great that his post has stimulated such debate though.

    As we understand it here the Simpsons was taught in a Media module. Media is a vital component of any curriculum in my opinion as it is such a powerful force in modern society and children must learn how to interact with it critically, or we could end up in real trouble.

    • 79. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 9:04 am

      Thank you for your well-mannered post Kathryn. I will respond the same way. I disagree with you entirely. ‘Media is such a powerful force’. Well, as I’ve said above, ‘traffic’ is a powerful force, but we don’t teach our children about traffic, nor do we teach them the HItler parodies on youtube, although these can be quite hilarious. I think we should think hard about what we really think is the best knowledge to date that we want to teach our children. It is possible to go right down the rabbit hole and follow every thread of what ‘modern society’ really is (and people will obviously disagree on what it is) and how we should adapt constantly to meet it. I disagree with that. I lean more to a measured traditional academic approach. We should not be afraid of these terms. We should not constantly doubt the worth of great works of literature, for we may end up unwilling or unable to defend ANY curriculum.

  • 80. DT-teacher  |  August 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

    You can get signatures on ANY petition you wish to create.

    The classic “people will petition against anything” scam goes like this: please sign our petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide. It kills 100,000s people world wide each year, it’s the main component in acid rain, many companies pump it into rivers untreated and the government is doing nothing!

    Dihydrogen monoxide is of course, water, and all the above facts are perfectly true.

    My second point is that anyone who wishes to criticise the education system needs to spend a day in a school on the chalkface. No really. Mr Reynolds should not post anymore comments before trying to teach Shakespeare to year 8. And I mean YOU, not your father.

    It’s quite hard to engage young people in something so terribly difficult and dull as Shakespeare. I’m a teacher myself, have a degree in engineering, designed part of the Mini, have travelled around the world, worked sympathetically with locals in Kashmir and Beirut, give back excess change in a shop when given in error and HATE Shakespeare. I’m not bragging or want admiration. It’s just possible to be a responsible member of society, a good role model and even know how to spell and punctuate correctly without reading fancy old books.

    When I say it’s quite hard to engage young people I mean that some year 8s can’t even tell the time. Or spell “please”. Some year 8s are too interested in who shagged who over the weekend and want to discuss the sights and smells of such event rather than learn the resistor colour code.

    Of course, many year 8s are very intelligent, well-mannered and brought up impeccably. But a curriculum needs to be accessible to all. The Simpsons is and the work derived from it can be differentiated so the clever kids will be stretched as much as the less able. Shakespeare is simply inaccessible to possibly 75% of the year group.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone is interested in the same things as you and need the same education as you had.

    Now, I’m off to watch some poor quality dumbed-down television. Oh no, I can’t because this book-hating simpleton doesn’t have one! I think I’ll go for a walk, listen to the radio or converse with my wife instead.

    • 81. theagingfanboy  |  August 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

      Well said. You could also visit your local comic shop and see some VERY well crafted literature. The class could have been talking about Superman; just think of the apoplexy that would emerge then.

      • 82. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 9:22 am

        Fanboy, next you’ll want youtube videos of kids putting Mentos into Diet Coke bottles taught to the class. Why don’t we make it easy on you, just let them all ride bikes?
        We make judgments about our curriculum. Some things are better than others. If there was no difference between two choices, half of us wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning.
        Well, sorry about that crack — maybe you didn’t get out bed.

    • 83. Joseph Reynolds  |  September 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

      DT. Interesting points. First you’ve fallen for the ‘wow, this guy has 400 signatures, the only way we can defend ourselves is to sully the petition’ school of thought. If you were on the Square with me, you would have noted how reasonable and well informed most people were.
      Of course there are issues with Year 8 students. You want ME to teach them? That is not my profession. I had Ms Ericson in Year 8. We had Romeo and Juliet. She was a great teacher. She made it interesting. Even the slower kids got through it. My father taught Great Expectations to the slowest group in Year 9. He said he just went a little slower for them.

      ‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone is interested in the same things as you…’ Well, 400 people were. And also, erm, the National Curriculum agrees with me, DT.

  • 84. Maricar  |  September 9, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Shakespeare would have wanted the kids at Kingsmead school to study the Simpsons??

  • 85. Denise  |  September 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    After reading the many polarizing comments above here are the facts. There IS a required media module, however in the list of acceptable materials, no where does it include TV sitcoms. The National Curriculum does however suggest things such as journalism, travel writing, historical non-fiction and documentaries. The point is, there is no requirement to teach The Simpsons. There seems to be much agreement about the intelligent fun The Simpsons writers have with their scripts, but they do this with a background knowledge of history, literature, politics, etc. I don’t understand how you teach a child about irony and parody if they are not familiar with the content being satirized. Sure it is a well written, entertaining program and yes, Shakespeare can be difficult and boring, however the real argument is that in Year 8 English only one whole book was read. Why do authors like Wilfred Owen get a look in on a “Challenge Day”, but one episode of The Simpsons gets 15 whole classes? Why do they only read excerpts of Dracula and Frankenstein (neither, I should mention, are very long books to begin with) and The Simpsons gets 15 classes? There can be a little media, and there can be some Shakespeare, but certainly there should be much more as well. The National Curriculum lists many, many authors and types of media to fulfill it’s requirements. The school has the ability to choose it’s content and it is not giving the students a diverse range of content from the English Literary Heritage as set out by the National Curriculum. There is plenty of engaging, easily relatable and relevant written material available for study. The school can choose better and include more.

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