It is not sufficient, apparently, merely to have the name of an ancient Greek poet. Not at least according to a Mr Reynolds who is incandescent with rage over his local Somerset school’s decision to use The Simpsons as a vehicle for teaching their 12-year-old pupils in Year 8. If The Simpsons are to be mentioned at all within the hallowed halls of this learning institution, so Mr Reynolds argues, that can only be as a sort of educational loss-leader for stronger stuff.
“If you want to use The Simpsons once in a while as a hook to get kids interested in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or get them interested in some other stronger content, I think that’s great”, he says. But never as the main course, to mix my metaphors. That’s because “there’s a big difference between [using the Simpsons as an appetiser] and actually teaching The Simpsons for six weeks and I think it’s a waste of the kids’ time.”
In its defence, the school points out that the kids will “also learn about different aspects of the media; audience, visual narrative, presentation and stereotypes, and some quite high level thinking ideas like satire, irony and parody.” But that’s not the half of it, and the school should really be castigated for not realising the true breadth of insight that The Simpsons can provide. A quick perusal of titles that could be set for homework reveals “The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer”, “What’s Science Ever Done For Us: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe”, “Machiavelli Meets Mayor Quimby: Political Commentary in the First Season of The Simpsons”, and for light relief, “The World According to The Simpsons: What Our Favorite TV Family Says about Life, Love, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Donut”. What the hell has A Midsummer Night’s Dream got to offer in comparison with that? Faeries and dressing up as a donkey. QED.
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not seriously suggesting that Shakespeare should be dumped in favour of Groening. And there is probably more to be extracted from A Midsummer Night’s Dream than how to put on a donkey’s head and have a slightly scatological name. So my argument with Mr Reynolds is not that he’s an old fuddy-duddy that likes to stuff the Bard down his children’s throats and those of their comrades. It’s much more to do with his reasoning. It transpires that what really gets his goat about the school’s curriculum is that it has “kind of fallen back on a weaker programme here just because kids like The Simpsons.”
And so here we reach the nub of the argument. For Mr Reynolds and his ilk the worst thing a teacher can do is to pander to his or her pupils’ pre-existing likes and enthusiasms. That is arrant rubbish. It is precisely in harnessing those likes and enthusiasms, and through them leading their pupils on to other, and yes, sometimes better, things that the most gifted teachers prove their worth. For Mr Reynolds’ puritanical view of education the idea that kids might actually enjoy learning is anathema. Long may his petitions to the school’s governors be ignored as this one was.
Oh, and whilst we’re rubbishing the man’s misery-guts approach to the classroom, we might also point out “kind of fall[ing] back” on something is a construction he has more likely picked up from his own studies of The Simpsons than from immersing himself in Shakespeare.