Let’s start by posing a fundamental question: how is one to learn about and marvel in experiences, cultures and ways of life in the past, if not through literature? In my view, there’s only one answer to that. You simply cannot know how you came to be where you are and who you are without literary accounts. You cannot understand your own language, not to mention other languages and their development within a historical context, if you don’t read literature.
Of course, it’s not just a peek into the past that will help get you through the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell and other influential authors of the British classics; you can get a deeper understanding of how the English language evolved in terms of word morphology, punctuation, syntax, grammar, and phonology. As Sally Law, the principal teacher of English at Marr College in Scotland, wrote in The Guardian, ‘we’re equipping them [the students] with essential skills for the real world.’ Simply using the English language as we read it in today’s modern version is not enough to understand its complexity.
As I mentioned above, literature also contributes to one’s identity. Grasping the changes from past to present concerning behaviour, norms, ideas, and perspectives allows one to understand what, how, and why things have transformed. It is very well-known that history repeats itself, and through studying about the past, one can understand what to avoid in the present and, hopefully, in the future.
If there are, therefore, a lot of benefits to the study of literature, why is it not further promoted and encouraged in education in the UK? Because contrary to what you might think, it is not. And for that matter, why are other art subjects less and less appealing to students?
Unfortunately, due to policy changes in education, the number of students following a more artistic path has dropped to its lowest in a decade. English literature, which is better studied in its entirety, is mostly introduced to students as a supporting subject to the learning of the English language. As a result, insufficient attention is being paid to the content of literary work. The ultimate goal of this policy is of course to provide students with the best chance of achieving a good GCSE grade. However, a considerable amount of the enjoyment and heritage that these texts provide is at present being lost in the process. Some classic works traditionally taught as standard have now been cast aside, deemed unnecessary. Students study not for the pleasure of it, but rather as an obligation to pass, not really seeing or being present in the moment. It is unfortunate that today it seems like the study of such a subject is there only as a means to the end of passing exams.
Greg is the Head Of Operations at Oxford Home Schooling and has more than 25 years of experience in Distance Learning and Home Education