Thank goodness for Philip Pullman! There is something in today's Telegraph saying how he 'criticised teachers for the “painful” way they tore stories apart to try to reveal what they “really mean”.
'The result is pupils who end up hating the books, he said. Instead of being drilled and quizzed about them, children should be given time to enjoy the stories.
'When you read a book, “you should get magic from it”, he said. “There should be plenty of books and plenty of time, and teachers should leave children alone.
'“Sometimes a book will not make its full impact known to us until 20 or 30 years later”.'
For the full article see here.
I am sure it's the reason most people hate poetry. You read a poem at school, and before you've even had time to look back over it again the teacher is asking what you think it's really 'about'. So the poem can't simply be itself, it has to be about something. It is not a blend of sounds you enjoy for their own sake and gradually come to understand, often at some level that goes beyond mere 'comprehension', but something a bit like one of those highly annoying wooden three-dimensional puzzles - you take it apart piece by piece and all you are left with is a heap of wooden shapes.
I remember when I was seven we 'did' The Silver Chair at school. CS Lewis was my favourite author at the time, I had read most of the books and was in love with Narnia (I came to The Last Battle a little later and hated it with as much passion as I had loved the other books - I felt I had been duped, along with the Pevensey children - that a land I had loved for itself was now only to be loved because it was an image of the true, everlasting land - I was furious with the author for playing such an underhand trick and never forgave him). Those lessons were a torment - first, the idea that something I loved, a private land or so I had thought, was part of school, which I certainly didn't love. We read the book round the class, in turn, so you had to endure parts where people stumbled through the words and the slowness was almost unbearable. I don't know whether some people discovered the magic of CS Lewis through that book in that class. But I spent the lessons with my ears blocked, furious at the trespass taking place.
Of course, it can sometimes be fun to look at books together. You can think about characters or turns of plot and it can all lead to some interesting discussions. Luckily, books resist interpretations. And not all teachers pull things apart - many encourage children to share the pleasure they experience in reading and don't insist everything should be 'understood'.