Back Thursday 12 May 2016 1:06 pm

The Importance of Teaching Diverse Texts

The English and Media Centre's Director, Andrew McCallum, on the importance of teaching a diverse range of texts.
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While planning for a course that we are running at the English and Media Centre about teaching challenging and diverse texts, it struck me that there are real parallels between the structure of many literary narratives, particularly novels and short stories, and the experience of migration.

Migration is marked by disruption, followed by a period of reconstruction and possible resolution, with various ups and downs along the way. It not only involves transitions from one geographical location to another, but also transitions in time, perhaps taking people from a developing region of the world to a developed one, from a world still trying to escape from the past to a world that is rushing towards the future. Once in a new country, migrants must assimilate themselves to new forms – languages, customs, systems of governance etc. But they also maintain links to where they came from, perhaps expressed in the form of anecdotes, memories and retold stories, but also in the voices they keep in contact with back home, via the phone or social media. Life becomes an assemblage of cultural reference points, familiar and unfamiliar, exciting, daunting and even terrifying. Life, in other words, contains multitudes. And what are novels and short stories for but to bring some kind of order and sense to such multitudes?

Of course, I don’t want to trivialise migration by linking it too closely to narrative forms. It must often evoke far more emotions than even the most complex of novels can manage. But for migrants themselves, stories can offer a way to make sense of their experiences and provide recognition of what they might have been through. For everyone else, they provide a valuable insight into those experiences.

We’ll be looking at texts about migration on the course that we are running, and even suggesting ways that they can be used to think about narrative structure. Not narrative structure as an abstract literary concept, but as something integral to making meaning. It’s an example of why we think literary study at both KS3 and KS4 should definitely include contemporary texts. Yes, the study of narrative structure in, say, Jekyll and Hyde, is also fascinating and worth looking at closely. But which is more important for young people to look at today: a fragmented narrative structure representing the dislocations of a Victorian gentleman struggling to reconcile his own desires with the constraints of late 19th century British society, or a fragmented narrative structure representing the dislocations of migration?

We won’t just be looking at migration, or issues-based literature. We’ll also be exploring stories of everyday life set in different cultures, recreations of seminal heritage texts, including Shakespeare’s plays, and poetry from around the world (including this wonderful anthology, which is perfect for KS3 pupils).

There is plenty of room in the KS3 curriculum for studying literature from around the globe, as well as diverse texts from the UK. KS3 Literature for Today’s World: Building in Challenge and Diversity is the English and Media Centre’s small attempt to suggest some ways in which this can be done. The next step is much more challenging: getting more diverse texts into the GCSE curriculum.

Comments

Having experienced your short workshop based on this course I can report how inspired I've been by the texts and teaching methodologies you are using to introduce themes of diversity and difference into English teaching. As you say above, it is a pity that the KS4 curriculum rests with more traditional canonical texts that deny young people the kind of contact with the wider world these more global texts can inspire. By Chris Horton on 08th Mar 2017

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