Monday, March 3, 2008

Bong Jaw

The English examination boards have decided that modern language A-levels should no longer include the study of literary texts - students will simply be asked to write an essay of some 270 words on a literary subject.

Books for the chop include:


- Albert Camus, The Plague

- Joseph Joffo, A Bag of Marbles

- Molière, The Bourgeois Gentleman

- Marcel Proust, A Love of Swann’s

- Françoise Sagan, Hello Sadness

- Voltaire, Candide


- Bertolt Brecht, The Good Woman of Sichuan

- Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis

- Eduard von Keyserling, Sultry Days

- Thomas Mann, Disorder and Early Sorrow


- Isabel Allende, Eva Luna

- Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya

- Dante, Inferno

- Federico Garcia Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba

- Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author

- Alexander Pushkin, The Queen of Spades

(list from the Times, which has somewhat oddly given all titles in English)

I find this completely baffling. I can still remember being put in an advanced French class my last year of high school, when we read Madame Bovary, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Anatole France's Le livre de mon ami, Therese Desqueyroux and Butor's La Modification. All discussion of the texts was conducted, painfully, in French. If only more of school had been like that. I suppose one could argue that this put me off studying French at university, since I then realised that I could read Balzac, Proust, Voltaire, Mme de Sevigne, anything, without signing up for a course - but it seems to me that it is the business of a school, when teaching a subject at the advanced level, to provide precisely this sort of basis for strong students. (The A in A-level, for those new to the British system, stands for 'advanced'.)

According to the Times, Eton and Winchester have decided to stop teaching modern language A-levels and offer a different, 'more traditional' exam (the PreU) instead. Meanwhile a source at one of the English examination boards has explained that 'there was nothing to stop English schools opting for language A-levels offered by exam boards in Northern Ireland and Wales, which have retained lists of set texts.' (link courtesy of The Elegant Variation).

1 comment:

TheElementary said...

I grew up in Ireland and even ten years ago Dickens, Hardy, Eliot were firmly on the curriculum. They won't be on it for long, I suspect.
Modern novels and living authors have replaced what I sat through. I know things change but some of the newer works are not comparable to what went before.
Good, thought-provoking post.