Blunt verse

Latest news from the madhouse: the AQA examination board has removed from the GCSE curriculum a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, “Education for Leisure”, which was claimed to “glorify” knife crime (the poem’s protagonist says “Today I am going to kill something, / Anything. / I have had enough of being ignored and today / I am going to play God.”).

Duffy’s eloquent response to this has been to write a poem highlighting a certain other English poet – one even more admired and respected than herself – whose work should, on the same basis, be axed from the AQA’s curriculum:

Mrs Schofield’s GCSE

You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare’s Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt’s death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again.
Said by which King? You may begin.

“Mrs Schofield” is the AQA examiner who first objected to “Education for Leisure”, describing it as “absolutely horrendous”. What I find absolutely horrendous is the thought that children’s educational accomplishments are being measured and assessed by someone whose appreciation for poetry and literature is illustrated by her reaction to having a poem written about her by Duffy:

She described the poem as “a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that’s me”.

Edit: I’m told that Mrs Schofield is in fact only an invigilator, not an examiner. This means she isn’t actually involved in marking or setting papers. That removes my concerns about her attitude towards poetry, and reinforces that the villain of the piece is the AQA exam board (plus a rent-a-quote Tory MP who “doesn’t believe in censorship, but…”). Speaking of which, do join D.S. Ketelby’s Facebook group, Memo to AQA Exam Board: Try Growing A Spine.

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4 Responses to Blunt verse

  1. Emily Dickinson says:

    That’s pretty dire.

  2. D.S.Ketelby says:

    What I find absolutely horrendous is the thought that children’s educational accomplishments are being measured and assessed by someone whose appreciation for poetry and literature is illustrated by her reaction to having a poem written about her by Duffy…: “having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that’s me”.

    Agreed. And the Conservative MP involved announced that “I don’t believe in censorship, but…” (one of those phrases, along with “political correctness gone mad” and “some of my best friends” which should set klaxons blaring).

    There’s now a Facebook group (well, there had to be) called: “Memo to AQA Exam Board: Try Growing A Spine.”

  3. Phil Walker says:

    I have to say, I agree with Schofield and Halton: I find most poetry a bit weird, and for that reason would view myself as entirely unsuitable to determine any poem’s worth for an English GCSE.

  4. Michele Ledda says:

    I agree. Pat Schofield had no power to ban anything. The villain is AQA. If they had had the slightest interest in literature, it would have been very easy for them to dismiss 3 complaints. The reason they couldn’t is perhaps that they selected Duffy’s poems, not because they believe they are great literature, but because of the issues they deal with. People who like Education for Leisure should defend it for its literary value, not because it carries the ‘correct’ message.
    But whatever one thinks of the literary merits of Education for Leisure, AQA’s ban sets a dangerous precedent. Once the very people who should uphold standards in the study of literature start using poems instrumentally, the door is open to all sorts of external demands. If we don’t do something against this trend it won’t stop here. It sounds unlikely now, but sooner or later they will ban a Shakespeare play.

    That’s why I have started a petition against this ridiculous ban: http://www.petitiononline.com/hdsoffp/petition.html

    For more information, see my post on the Manifesto Club website
    http://www.manifestoclub.com/node/387

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