Several months ago in a forgettable moment of quixotic folly from the floor of the Lower House, St Michael North parliamentary representative Mr Ronald Toppin questioned the relevance of teaching English literature in schools. Indeed, he could see no justification for the teaching of the subject in secondary schools specifically.
We believe Mr Toppin was trying to make a valid point about teaching technical skills, but somehow did not see any connection between technical skills and intellectual competencies even though the promotion of one does not necessitate the relegation of the other.
But we have commenced with digression.
Though most Barbadians by this stage would have stopped giving and receiving Christmas gifts, we are still very much within the celebratory period of those twelve days of the Yuletide season. This is a time when we tend to share more, smile more, communicate more and accentuate the positive aspects of our existence, with the happiness that the Christmas season brings to our children of greatest importance. As country crooner Glen Campbell once sang, Christmas is indeed for children.
Within the context of giving to our children of infant, primary and secondary school age, items such as toys, watches, colognes, perfumes and other well-intentioned gifts have frequently taken precedence over books. However, those who annually have been swamped by gifts of books and have read them can consider themselves fortunate and privileged.
Many teachers and parents often bemoan the fact that our children do not read enough. And although we present no empirical evidence here to support the following suggestion, it is possible that those children who do not read enough perhaps originate from homes where they do not see adults reading as well. The point is that reading should not be confined to the fulfillment of a curriculum requirement. Reading – in all homes – should be as instinctive and natural as taking a shower, having a meal, going to the beach or listening to music.
The knowledge to be gleaned and the lessons to be learnt are limitless in the world of books. But our children and indeed our nation’s adults will only benefit to the greatest possible degree if reading books becomes cultural. We will only gain the maximum advantage if we view literature of all types as critically important beyond an examination requirement.
The Christmas period is arguably one of the more convenient occasions for us to sow newer seeds of appreciation for this discipline. It will undoubtedly redound to the advantage of our children and by extension the country’s adults, if the gift of books and participatory reading at, before and after the twelve days of Christmas, become a domestic staple.
And there is a school of thought that reading also helps to keep one healthy. Some scientists have suggested that inasmuch as jogging and brisk walking benefit our cardiovascular system, consistent reading helps one’s mental function by the ‘exercise’ it provides. Books are a source of free education, entertainment, a pathway to tranquility, stress reduction, and much more positives. Those technical skills that Mr Toppin tried but failed to divorce from the world of academia are to be found in books and of course, to be fine-tuned later in practice.
Last year retired Barbadian diplomat Peter Laurie had this to say about why one should read William Shakespeare.
“He gives us unexpected insights into life. He depicts the suffering and joy, the hopes and fears we all experience. He also keeps nudging us to ask what it is we value in ourselves and others? Why are we here? What is it all about? Most important of all, he makes us see that our common humanity is far more important than the national, ethnic, religious and other differences of circumstance that divide us.
“In one sense Shakespeare is very much our contemporary: he lived in a time of shattering upheaval, when many certainties seemed to have been swept away, much like our own times. In his plays he manages to capture and convey the excitement and dread of what it means to live in the bewildering space between a known past and a murky future.”
Are those not lessons worth learning? And the Bard of Avon was but one scribe. There are thousands of others catering to our every need, desire, hope, expectations and dreams.
Can we lose if Santa swamps all of our homes this Christmas and every Christmas henceforth with gifts of books and more books? The answer is self-evident. After all, as William Wordsworth stated, the child is the father of man.