Monday, March 19, 2012

Nothing new about teaching Scottish Literature, but.

I was irritated by something I overheard on Radio Scotland this morning - something that had already irritated me when it was first announced in January. I'm referring to Mike Russell's proclamation that Scottish Literature is to be a compulsory part of the school curriculum for Higher English students. Someone else repeated that in a half-heard chat this morning, and I fell to thinking of all the so-called new initiative implied.

I imagine the average punter would assume, since it's being trumpeted, that no English teachers until now have bothered with Scottish writers. Naw - it's all Shakespeare and Milton, innit? Well ... no. Actually Scottish writing has been an important part of the English curriculum from the start of my now-defunct career in teaching, even if, back in the late '60s, Folk Tales of the Borders and The Twa Corbies seemed to dominate. But in the last 20 years of my time in the classroom, I can't think of any year group that didn't enjoy Scottish writers ...

Like the S2 boys who were so taken with the poetry of Edwin Morgan that they wrote him a laboriously-composed letter and were delighted to get a reply ...
Like the S3 girl who loved Morgan's Strawberries so much that she did a solo talk for Standard Grade on it and then sent him a copy of her talk: again, she had a personal reply and was thrilled ...
Like the Higher students, year after year, who shared Chris Guthrie's horror as her crippled father demanded she come to him,  who later wept at the fate of Ewan ...
Like the S2 pupils who learned to appreciate effective metaphor from Norman MacCaig's Visiting Hour ...

...and I haven't even mentioned Robin Jenkins or Ian Crichton Smith or The Coming of the Wee Malkies or The Lament for a Lost Dinner Ticket, or how an S4 boy with quite severe learning problems suddenly understood metre after reading the opening line of one of Morgan's sonnets, with which I think I'll stop:

A shilpit dog fucks grimly by the close



  1. Talking about making a political rather than an educational point, Christine. The compulsion is enough to turn some teenagers off right away.

    Thanks so much for the fascinating links which I've just spent ages following. I was particularly taken with Edwin Morgan's poetry and have bookmarked the last link to follow up later.

  2. I was actually wondering if you specifically would like to know what I was referring to - glad you did!