Do We Need To Give The English Literature Syllabus An Overhaul?

Posted on October 24, 2010 in Education

By Aashu Anshuman:

English literature is boring. I would have continued to carry this opinion had I not stumbled upon a book titled ‘Fifteen Poets’ which covered some of the best works of the greatest English poets. After a couple of days with it, I realised that Shakespeare was far from a poet who didn’t manage to rhyme. And that so many of these poets had a sense of humour not very different from what is in vogue today. Then I got interested and moved to ‘A Short History of English Literature‘ and found out that ‘Beowulf’ (I had seen the movie) was the greatest piece of surviving Anglo-Saxon Literature, I couldn’t stop until I finished it.

So what was different? I had never liked my English lessons while I was in school. So how was I finding old, really old English literature to be such a great read. Possibly I had grown up and my taste had changed. Or maybe I would have liked all of that stuff, had my teachers been allowed to take that approach to teaching English. Yes! That probably was more explanatory.

I spent my schooling years reading completely random short stories and excerpts from novels and plays. All I had to do was know enough about what was in the chapters and who said what and why and when? Students, including me, abhorred ‘out-of-syllabus’ questions (if there were any) during examinations. That is the way I was taught English.

But really, should English literature in schools have an inflexible syllabus? Whatever happened to the time when children enjoyed reading stories! If I had enjoyed English back then as I do now, who knows I might have chosen a completely different career. But all I ever saw of Shakespeare in school was ‘Julius Caesar’. And it was not enough to teach me why I should read his other works. I, instead, thought he was a poet who couldn’t even rhyme. The reason is simple. To appreciate such greatness is not something which can be taught, only learnt.

I do not have the expertise to provide suggestions as to what should be included in the syllabus. But I can say that the complete syllabus for English literature in all Indian schools, across all boards needs a complete overhaul. Scrap the concept of written exams for the subject. Include more interactive ways to evaluate students like discussions, debates and book reports. Teach them using the Harry Potter books if you have to. At least, they won’t worry about the syllabus then. Give them a reason to love English and your job would be almost done.

The need for change is desperate. And desperate measures are thus called for.

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