Sunday, 9 December 2012

Don't sabotage with standardisation

In response to our Education Secretary's curriculum reforms, the former Children's Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, recently stated, "It is really important that focusing on things such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting doesn’t inhibit the creative flow. When I was at school there was a huge focus on copying and testing and it put me off words and stories for years." He was warning against stifling a child's creativity with an overbearing emphasis on academic rigour.

Colourful, but has clearly misunderstood the importance of artistic convention.

Of course, it's important to have the tools to facilitate expression and to communicate ideas clearly, but I find myself rejecting the argument that creativity should play 'second fiddle' to the instillation of academic rigour. If that's the case, the clarity and insight of storytelling in a child's early artwork surely comes under scrutiny? And, if we accept that creativity can only flourish in the florescence of formalisation, what sort of creativity are we settling for? When a child's imagination is in full flow, it's nothing less than sabotage* to inflict the rules of grammar and punctuation in the interests of standardisation. Rules should be introduced with the greatest care, to ensure that a child's work is the best it can be, with the minimum of compromise.

I know from my own experience that young minds deliver the most wonderful scenarios without pausing for breath. Colour and content usually gets blended to produce some delightful impossibilities that punch far above any set grammatical weight.

Surely, what we need is balance. I know there are a number of you out there who are writers and/or teachers. How do you see it?

* Sabotage: deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), esp. for political or military advantage.


  1. I'm not a teacher but I think there has to be both. I am so glad I had good grammar instilled into me - and I enjoyed it too. OK, I'm not a very creative writer but I don't think it was learning the rules that stopped me!

    1. I agree, jennyfreckles, there has to be a balance. I suppose my fear is that we're heading back to a day when kids were taught 'parrot fashion', with little time spent on context.

      You may not regard yourself as a very creative writer, but we regularly witness your creative expression through photography.

  2. On reflection, I find I'm probably in the 'rules' camp, but there's probably a balance that should be struck. I've found no shortage of imagination in my own children, and one has been positively encouraged by his own increasing mastery of the rules of English, and creatively uses the effect of knowingly breaking them.
    But I, personally, never found the learning grammar and spelling any barrier at all to creativity. Perhaps it really does depend on the teacher and the child.
    The only thing to consider is that correct English is not only used for creative writing. All children have to grow, live, thrive and work in the world, and I don't think poor English writing skills are any benefit to them whatsoever. It must also affect their ability to expess their thoughts in other subjects.

    So yep, I'm talking myself more and more into the good old-fashioned way.

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Titus. It really does depend on the teacher and the child, which is why the standardised, one size fits all approach to education needs an overhaul. Learning grammar and spelling is essential to language development, but I wouldn't want to see a situation where it's okay to have nothing to say, as long it's written properly.

  3. Apologies, that's 'other thing'. Hmmm, must talk to my teachers.


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