The unkindest cut?

Cotton-wool-wrapped schoolkids in the UK are being denied a poem because it contains stuff about a knife-carrying kid.

An anthology of poems is being deemed unsuitable by the exam board AQA on the basis of one poem, and it is writing to schools advising them to destroy the volumes (the sheer waste is criminal, let alone the censorship), and another one, minus the poem, is being sent out to schools in its place.

The poem begins with the line, “Today I am going to kill something. Anything.”

“It describes the thoughts of a disturbed, isolated individual who feels underappreciated and undervalued and who kills a fly then a goldfish. The poem concludes with this angry loner going outside with a bread knife,” says the BBC (linked to above).

Some teachers have been complaining for years about the poem’s inclusion in the anthology [says the BBC]

In 2002, English staff at a school in Hull, East Yorkshire, refused to teach the poem and said they would even tear the page from the book if they had to.

The exam board said the poem had been a “popular choice” for pupils – allowing GCSE English students to debate issues about the state of mind of the poem’s narrator.

But a spokeswoman said the board had received a complaint and against a background of fears over teenage knife crime had now decided to drop it from the anthology.

But Peter Strauss, the literary agent for Carol Ann Duffy, the poet concerned, isn’t too chuffed. He told the BBC’s iPM programme that the poem was not a promotion of violence.

“This poem is pro-education and anti-violence. It is not glorifying violence in any way,” said Strauss. “Carol Ann Duffy is a vocational poet for the young. She gets children fired up about language and verse. She talks to more schoolchildren than I’ve ever met. She’s encouraged more people to have a love of words and a love of education than anyone else I know.”

And how else do you get kids fired other than by confronting issues? Confronting them via an art form is going to allow the kinds of exploration of taboo activities (whether knives, drugs, booze or underage sex) that a simple “Thou Shalt Not” can never achieve.

But perhaps we should pull Shakespeare favourites from English literature classes because there’s this bloke behind the arras having a knife plunged into his guts. There’s a fair old body count in Hamlet, and of course we get the famous “Is this a dagger” line in Macbeth.

And just how many poems, stories and novels contain the use of swords, knives, guns and the hands of the strangler, not to mention the boot of the bovver boy? Do these prats not understand the word context?

Where do these do-gooders get their ideas from? They’re obviously being paid too much with too little work to do if they have the time to go around looking for everything that doesn’t fit with the current thinking on what is “appropriate”.

You may – may – want to try to make the (controversial) case that kids are desensitised to violence through seeing so much of it on TV, whether in fictional or factual programmes. But having the subject told through a poem, which is going to be discussed and pulled apart for all aspects of its content and structure, can only be a good thing.

Makes you wonder whether half of these people really are fit to be in the education industry.

2 Responses to “The unkindest cut?”

  1. LaBrosse says:

    I’m a regular and devoted reader of your posts and delight in agreeing with almost every word you write.
    However, and particularly in a case where your words are likely to be read by the young, it’s important to point out that it is the “bloke behind the arras” who gets stabbed rather than the other way round.
    Otherwise, I agree. Again.
    Author (AA) adds: I bow to your superior knowledge, LaBrosse, and the correction has been duly made.

  2. Stuart H. says:

    The saddest thing about this is that the folk who will most welcome this nonsense are the same folks who would like to see a compulsory bible (or koran) in every little schoolie’s desk.
    If you’re looking for ‘inappropriate’ books at least do the job properly and responsibly!