Wednesday, 25 July 2012
On the teaching of subjects about which one knows nothing at all
I have explored the notion in recent days of a ‘hidden curriculum’, which guides parents and children towards focusing on some areas of education to the neglect or even exclusion of others. Some people avoid mathematics, for example, or science, and concentrate instead upon creative activities.
In my case, it was the opposite. I was confident of dealing with solid academic stuff like history and physics, but felt disinclined to bother with things like art, music and acting. For that reason, I deliberately set out to make sure that my daughter achieved at least as much in those fields as she would in conventional school subjects.
Take acting. How on earth does somebody who knows nothing about it and has no interest in the matter, teach this? It was easy enough. Our family has always been one for playing parlour games, rather than watching television. So I made sure that we also played games which would help with drama; games like charades, where people take it in turn to act out the titles of a book, film or play. We also devised a version of this which we called Biblical Charades, which entailed acting out a scene from scripture. (This version is only suitable for mad people who spend a lot of time reading the Bible, of course, into which category we unfortunately fall.) Another good game is one where you make two piles of slips of paper. On one pile you have activities written down; mowing the lawn, making toast, reading the paper and so on. The other pile consists of adverbs; sadly, cheerfully, slowly, thoughtfully and as many others as you can think of. Each person then takes a piece of paper from each heap and tries to mime the appropriate actions; for instance ‘doing the washing up angrily’. This is really good for getting a child to move about, to act in fact. Reading out loud expressively is also good practice for drama. Getting a child to vary her voice, put on different accents and generally bring the thing to life.
Another way of encouraging an interest in and appreciation of acting in a small child is by taking her to the theatre. There is a lot of nonsense talked about how boring children find Shakespeare, but that is because it is often just read out in a classroom. That really is boring and would be enough to put anybody off! I took my daughter to plays by Shakespeare, as many as we could manage. She first sat through an entire play of this sort when she had just turned seven. In fact, for a child of that age, a visit to the theatre is even more exciting than going to the cinema. Obviously, you have to do activities beforehand to explain the plot and so on and look at the context. It is good to have the animated Shakespeare plays on DVD as well, to watch. By the time she was fourteen my daughter had seen eight plays by Shakespeare, as well as other plays by authors as varied as Gogol, Ibsen, Shaw, Tennessee Williams, J B Priestly, Arthur Miller and Christopher Marlow. Going to the theatre became one of her main enjoyments during childhood.
As for actually taking examinations with LAMDA, this was very straightforward and a lot of fun. The specifications are freely available. They may be found here:
As you can see, no knowledge of teaching drama is needed. Can you encourage your child to speak clearly? Can you make sure that he does not mumble? Are you able to get him to move about while he is acting and make appropriate facial expressions? Vary the tone of his voice? Imagine that he is talking to some particular character? There you are, you can teach drama!
As I say, this was all a deliberate strategy to make sure that my own prejudices did not hamper my child’s future intellectual development. I didn’t care at all for this sort of thing on my own account. It was so successful that she very nearly applied to study English at university, rather than the Philosophy, Politics and Economics that she finally decided upon. She still has an absolute fascination with Tudor theatre and Shakespeare. This is purely a result of my decision to make sure that one gap in my own mental life would not be transmitted to the child for whose education I was solely responsible.
In the next few days, I shall examine one or two other things of this nature, such as the teaching of music; something about which I knew even less than I did drama!