Your ‘to read’ list: Two set texts for all South Africans
23 JAN 2014 12:37 (SOUTH AFRICA)
As 2013 bled into 2014, I read two books that on the surface, had nothing to do with each other. Yet they led me to a startling realisation that made me think perhaps they should be set reading for all South Africans. By MARK HEYWOOD.
The idea that children should be educated has existed for thousands of years. The idea that all children have a right to a quality education is, however, a more recent idea, several hundred years old in some European countries, but only just turning twenty in ours. More recent, too, is the notion that education has more than just a utilitarian and practical objective. Education is about sustaining and deepening cultures and about building communities and nations.
Learning about literature (for a long time imperiously just called ‘English’) is an essential component of education, long a stock part of the syllabi. And so it should be. But how much organised thought, or debate, do we invest in understanding the role that literature can actually play in nation building or creating capable citizens? How do we inspire our teachers to teach literature and our learners to receive it? Is reading to be perceived as an onerous Dickensian chore of plot and quote learning, or can we make it into a gateway to creating national solidarity, empathy and social justice?
Two books I read over the holidays made me rethink these questions.
Every era and most nations have outstanding novelists and historians – the great writers who capture the spirit of the age, who labour over the intersections of life, embedding the personal in the political and vice versa. Great writers don’t lecture. They allow the accumulation of layers and colours until a picture begins to emerge. The great novelist or historian is able to portray the tectonic movement of social forces, the evils caused by some men (for it is usually men), and its impact on other men, women and children.
And then bang – suddenly a canvas exists where it all makes sense…