Censoring literature for children

Carol Anne Duffy

Knife crime  – yes it is an issue. Poetry though usually inspires people to be romantic or at least mutilate the English language for the sake of rhyming schemes. Some teachers however fear the emotional imagery that Carol Ann Duffy invokes in her poem Education for Leisure to the point of ripping it out of text books. The themes are familiar to anyone who has wondered that the only power that counts is that over life and death, that there are times when genocidal tendencies are fantasised about. After teacher complaints, the AQA exam board in Britain has withdrawn her poem, that reads:

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

Is this kill joys, who need to control the supposedly impressionable who think it may be cool to live like the person in the poem by preventing kids from ever knowing this well written poem? The poem is about education being the alternative to empowering you – rather than feeling like god killing a goldfish. That there is a false sense of celebrity in people thinking their being alive makes them worthy of the accolade.

For these reasons this poem is a popular one with children – because they can identify with the themes because they are so transparent, with the depth of the imagery inviting to be explored by eager minds. They identify with the rebel that finds the language of Shakespeare difficult, how the underclass are not appreciated, the desire to be noticed and recognized for who they are without needing to draw extra attention to get it.

What the teachers, and the exam board are not doing is protecting children. They are denying a poem that may connect to a child and inspire them to the beauty of the English language and poetry. To think that this poem will cause a child to enact violence, is to suggest that we should hide children from all art, all writing, all media and all human conversation. This poem could be the way to unlocking the frustrations and anger that children have.

Michael Rosen, the children’s laureate, said: “By this same logic we would be banning Romeo and Juliet. That’s about a group of sexually attractive males strutting round the streets, getting off with girls and stabbing each other.

“Carol Ann is an easy target because she’s a modern poet.” He added: “Of course we want children to be talking about knife crime and poems like these are a terrific way of helping that happen. Blanket condemnation and censorship of something never works.”

The AQA spokeswoman said: “The decision to withdraw the poem was not taken lightly and only after due consideration of the issues involved. We believe the decision underlines the often difficult balance that exists between encouraging and facilitating young people to think critically about difficult but important topics and the need to do this in a way which is sensitive to social issues and public concern.”

Sensitive to the charge that a kid in a class that has covered the poem may knife someone. Not that correlation means causation. Sometimes I really fear that there are people who want to improve things by killing our enjoyment of life, and the celebration of human talent. Parents – demand that fine works of literature are part of your child’s education and that they cover this issue. A frustrated education is something to be avoided.

A cynical person may think this is about preventing Carol Anne Duffy becoming the next Poet Laureate. Though her considerable talent may be enough to prevent that.

Quote taken from here.

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2 Comments

Filed under British Society, Poetry and Music

2 responses to “Censoring literature for children

  1. Neil Howlett

    There is a report that when the poem was first introduced some years ago a teacher did complain but that was considered and rejected. According to all the newspaper reports I have seen to date the AQA removed the poem after a complaint from an invigilator (who is also described in one report as a School Governor, though she does not seem to have been acting in that capacity), not complaints from teachers. I have asked the AQA to tell me what compaints they received and what the qualifications of the compainants were. They have not responded to that.

  2. Please do post what they say – if they get back to you.

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