Thomas Gradgrind – a man of realities. A man replete with facts and analysis. Thomas Gradgrind – trustee and CEO of the Gradgrind Academies Trust.
In these terms, Thomas Gradgrind introduced himself to the rows of GCSE pupils waiting to be filled with facts and dissected by analysis. The subject of the lesson was Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est
His eyes swept the serried ranks until he spied an unfamiliar face. ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’
‘Sissy Jupe,’ whispered the teacher. ‘She’s just arrived in the area. She previously attended a council-run school.’
Thomas Gradgrind wrinkled his nose in distaste. No council-run school, indeed no academy in any other group but Gradgrind Academies Trust, could prepare children for the modern world as well as his exemplary chain.
‘Sissy Jupe! Analyse this text!’
Sissy was for a moment perplexed by the command. She looked in vain for a mobile phone. She saw none. ‘Please, Sir. What text do you mean?’
No child clicked their fingers in approval as they had been trained to do. One boy, the one who had pinched her earlier, the one the children called Snitcher Bitzer, poked her in the back. Neither Gradgrind nor the teacher noticed.
Thomas Gradgind’s square finger jabbed towards the whiteboard. ‘The text which is presented here for you to analyse,’ he said.
Sissy blinked. ‘Please, Sir, I think the man is saying that war’s not worth it when soldiers die so horribly, Sir. I think he means soldiers are being lied to when they’re told it’s worth dying for their country.’
‘Sissy Jupe! I did not ask you to tell me what you think. I asked you to give me an analysis of the text here presented!’
Grandgrind’s finger ceased its furious jabbing and began moving here and there. It lighted suddenly on Bitzer.
‘Sissy Jupe is possessed of no knowledge of how to analyse a poem. She cannot break a poem into its constituent part. You, Bitzer, dissect the text!’
Bitzer stood to attention. ‘Three verses, two verses with eight lines, third verse with twelve lines. Example of adjective: “smothering”. Example of adverb: “softly”. Example of simile: “Obscene as cancer”. Example of alliteration: “blood-shod, blind”. Imperative: “Gas! Gas! Quick boys!” Preposition: “behind the wagon”. Group of three: “guttering, choking, drowning”. Example of assonance: “white eyes writhing”...’
Thus, and much more, through conjunctions and clauses, phrases and fullstops, colons and commas, Bitzer slashed the poem to bits.
The class clicked their fingers to show approval.
‘Now, Sissy Jupe’ said Thomas Grandrind. ‘You know how to analyse a text.’
Sissy bowed her head. She realised she understood nothing.
With apologies to Charles Dickens
and Wilfred Owen.
: To avoid any misunderstanding, I am in favour of pupils knowing the names of the parts (eg noun, adverb) and poetic devices (eg alliteration, assonance). This knowledge provides a shared language in which to discuss the effectiveness of literature and oratory. However, asking pupils to identify subordinating conjunctions, prepositional phrases and dependent clauses in stand-alone sentences is a meaningless exercise which diminishes appreciation of well-written and powerfully spoken English. Dickens recognised this in his description of Bitzer listing facts about a horse; Bitzer had encyclopaedic knowledge of equine essentials but did not appreciate the animal. Neither did he know how to ride or care for one. His interest (if interest it was) began and ended with facts.
See Stephanie Norman’s critique of the primary Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation test (SPAG) test here
See Debra Kidd’s blog for her take on finger clicking here