Monday, September 08, 2008

Duffy pens GCSE riposte

Following the decision by the AQA exam board to withdraw her poem, Education For Leisure, from its syllabus after an examiner's complaint about its violent content, Carol Ann Duffy has written a poetic riposte, Mrs Schofield's GCSE, published in The Guardian.
The Mrs Schofield of the poem refers to Pat Schofield, an external examiner at Lutterworth College, Leicestershire, who complained about the poem and who welcomed the decision to ban a poem she described as "absolutely horrendous".

Contacted by the Guardian last night, Schofield said she felt "a bit gobsmacked" to have a verse named after her. She described the poem as "a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that's me".

The AQA said last night that schools were not being urged to pulp the anthology: "This is not about destroying books. They are allowed to continue teaching the poem, if they wish, but they are not going to be examined on it," it said.
A Scottish teacher's union has backed AQA, reports The Herald:
The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) said the AQA exam board's decision to withdraw Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy's poem, Education for Leisure, from its GCSE English anthology was "common sense".

But Scotland's parent- teacher body branded the board's response censorship. A leading Scottish poetry expert said it was a "backward step".

The AQA maintained that it had been a difficult choice made in response to a complaint concerning the growing UK blade culture.

Jim Docherty, deputy general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said it was "common sense" and questioned why the poem had ever been studied in the first place.

The first line of the poem reads: "Today I am going to kill something. Anything."

A description follows of the disturbed thoughts of a disillusioned unemployed loner who kills a fly and then a goldfish. In the last verse he or she goes outside armed with a bread knife.
Update: There's lots of comment in the press, including from Richard Lea and Mark Lawson.
Poems are often brief and ambiguous. Exam boards might more easily tolerate a novel about an adolescent who considers stabbing someone, because 200 or so pages would probably encompass debate, payoff and a clear message distancing the author from their character. Duffy's dozen or so lines present a snapshot of someone about to snap, but the fact that the piece enters the mind of a violent person does not mean it's in favour of stabbing. And the perfect place to make this clear is the classroom. Any good English teacher would get the students talking about the situation Duffy depicts. Why does the narrator feel this way? Is he crazy? Isn't he going to end up dead or jailed? Have we ever felt like him - or, indeed, her? Interestingly, although most commentary has assumed that the narrator is male, Duffy never specifies this, which perhaps shows what a subtle form poetry can be.

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