18 May 2007

Boys are into just 160 books?

Alan Johnson has published a list of 160 books in an attempt to get boys to read more for pleasure and to keep up with girls. The £600,000 project is giving every secondary school the chance to twenty books from the list for free. That's good, except for one thing. It is a government made list.

'Boys into Books', as the scheme is called, is aimed mainly at boys aged between 11 and 14 because "research suggests boys enjoy reading at primary school but lose interest after the age of 11." The list includes authors such as Philip Pullman, Anthony Horowitz, Terry Pratchett and Jeremy Clarkson but is lacking any J. K. Rowling (who has through her Harry Potter series - book 7 out on 21st July! - alone got many children into reading), Charles Dickens and has only one Mark Twain - Alan Johnson's favourite, Tom Sawyer.

The idea is a good one. Boys should be encouraged to read more as it will improve the quality of their English and provide them with non-electrical means of entertainment. But it is flawed in so far as that it is a government-produced list. Why not instead just give each the chance to get twenty books of their own choice? Schools and teachers are far better placed to make the decisions on what the children in their school are going to want to read and what is going to motivate them.

Yes, you can say that there are 160 on the list, a large enough choice, surely? Yes there is, and no there isn't. Why are these 160 books so far superior in getting boys to read? They're not. If schools had the choice of any twenty books they wanted, with this list as a 'guide', then that would be better for all. Some school libraries may already have all of these books, after all.

The books on the list may have been "drawn up by librarians, who had carefully researched what books excited this age group of boys" but it's not the be-all and end-all of it. This programme, when limited to 160 books, is not much more than a publicity stunt and a chance to grab good media headlines. Just give schools more money to spend on books aimed at boys and the best outcome possible will arise for them - but that just wouldn't get Johnson so many headlines, would it?

The ThunderDragon

Sources: The Times, BBC, The Telegraph

1 comment:

Fabian Tassano said...

Another muddled educational initiative from the people who brought us the previous hundred or so, many of them no doubt still not properly implemented.

On the face of it, it's phoney largesse, and just seems silly. But underneath the apparent pointlessness we probably have the usual Labour destructiveness. First, as you point out, it's a form of cultural diktat. Some books are "approved", others not. Second, the supposed generosity really comes at the expense of taxpayers. So we (taxpayers) are forced to pay for books, which will be read by our children, according to a reading list set by the education ministry. Instead of just buying them ourselves, or giving our children the money to buy what they want. Not generosity then, just meddling.

I know Adam Curtis (BBC's "The Trap") would disapprove, but I think one needs to think about the motivation of the people who come up with such schemes. Do they want to promote the good of individuals, or even of the nation? Or do they just want to interfere with people's lives, because that's what they like doing?